St. Hedwig’s Beaker and the Alchemists

Headwig BeakerTwo alchemy notes from HogPro All-Pros in the mailbag today: one from Lynn and another from Library Lisa of Accio Quotes. Let’s start with Lynn and some links to the obviously relevant St. Hedwig’s Beaker:

I meant to send you this information long ago-after Convention Alley 2008. I stopped by the Corning Museum of Glass on the way home. They had an exhibition opening soon called Glass of the Alchemists: Lead Crystal–Gold Ruby, 1650–1750

Here is the link to that exhibition.  And here is the link to the Exhibition Guidebook which had these entries:

The beaker pictured here is decorated with two lions. It was found in the sacristy of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Halberstadt, Germany, in 1820. Hedwig beakers take their name from Saint Hedwig of Silesia (d. 1243), who is traditionally associated with two of them. The ascetic Hedwig annoyed her husband, Duke Henry I, by refusing to drink wine. According to legend, on one occasion Hedwig was drinking water when Henry snatched the glass from her, only to find that the water had turned into wine. The earliest datable Hedwig beakers belong to the late 12th or early 13th century, and this is probably the date of the beakers that cannot be closely dated. Thirteen Hedwig beakers survived in medieval European treasuries, and fragments of others have been found in archeological excavations in various parts of Europe. Not a single example has been reported from the Islamic world. Nevertheless, no other cut glass is known to have been made in Europe during the Middle Ages, and the origin of the Hedwig beakers remains uncertain.

Headwig Beaker
Place of manufacture uncertain, late 12th century
H. 8.7 cm, D. about 7.1 cm
Blown (perhaps in mold); wheel-cut
The Corning Museum of Glass (67.1.11) .

Hedwig Beaker
Dr. David Whitehouse, Executive Director and Curator of Ancient and Islamic Glass
Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Hedwig BeakerThe object was blown and wheel-cut and is decorated in relief with lions. It is one of two Hedwig beakers from the cathedral at Halberstadt, Germany. The second beaker, which is still at the cathedral, is said to contain relics of Apostles James and Thomas.

All Hedwig beakers are similar. They form a small group of objects decorated with lions, eagles, griffins, and other motifs. Their name comes from the legend of St. Hedwig (d. 1243), who supposedly owned such a beaker. Hedwig’s husband was concerned by a report that she drank only water. To test this report, he picked up her beaker, which was full of water, only to find that the water turned to wine as he drank.

Seven Hedwig beakers have 13th- to 15th-century metal mounts. Archeologists have excavated fragments from 12th-century and later contexts, and two beakers at Namur, Belgium, are associated with Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre between 1216 and 1226. We are fairly confident, therefore, that the beakers were made in the 12th to early 13th centuries.

No Hedwig beakers have been found outside Europe. Despite this, we are not certain where they were made: in central Europe, Sicily, Byzantium, or the Near East? Chemical analyses of three examples suggest that they were not made in central Europe. Some scholars believe that the beakers were produced in the Islamic Near East, where there was a strong tradition of glass cutting, or in the Byzantine Empire. Others favor Sicily, and yet another view holds that Hedwig beakers were made in the Holy Land at the time of the Crusades.

Library Lisa wrote this morning with this link to a collection of alchemical laboratory pictures. I found this passage intriguing, especially in light of Harry being the incarnation of the Gryffindor-Slytherin resolution:

In vague and basic terms: as the lion transforms the serpent into its own flesh when he devours it, so the philosopher’s stone has the power to transmute or transform all imperfect metals into gold; but pure gold is required as one of the ingredients.

So, if you always thought the St. Hedwig connection with Harry’s good friend the owl was thin, you now have the alchemical link. If you wondered, too, about Harry’s Polyjuice potion being golden, now you know he had to be golden for the resolution to have its edifying, even salvific effects.

Thank you, Lynn and Library Lisa!


  1. I love these tidbits of information! Granted, these types of posts always make me feel rather “under-educated”; nonetheless this is fascinating!

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