Thomas B. Costain, a Canadian who spent his adult life in the United States, was a late bloomer as far as literature was concerned. While pursuing a successful publishing career that ultimately led to him to become a senior editor at the New York firm of Doubleday, Costain began, in his fifties, to write historical novels. Featuring copious background and strong, humanistic characterization, Costain’s style as well as his outlook is roughly similar to that of his friend and fellow Canadian historical novelist, Nova Scotian Thomas H. Raddall. Unlike Raddall, however, Costain focused most of his attention on the medieval period. In The Silver Chalice, he went back further and wrote of the period immediately after the Gospels. The Silver Chalice was the best-selling book in 1953 and was made into a movie in 1954, starring Paul Newman in his first leading role.
The Silver Chalice begins in Judea. Basil, a young Greek slave, is asked to craft a silver chalice to hold the cup used by Jesus and his followers at the Last Supper. Basil is the son of Ignatius of Antioch, a man of stature in his community. However, he had been tricked out of his inheritance and sold into slavery. Apprenticing himself to a silversmith, he has made the best out of his situation and learned the skills of sculpture and engraving. Basil is a skilled sculptor and soon creates a beautiful silver chalice to hold the cup.
Basil becomes educated in the beliefs of the early Christians as well as in the Jewish lore that lies behind these beliefs. Luke, one of the most stalwart of Jesus’ apostles, instructs Basil in the wide disparity between the ideals Jesus exemplifies and the realities of life. Luke teaches that the Church, guided by the Holy...
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