Dating from the 12th century and decorated in foliate patterns, this small, bronze ball is actually a hand-warmer. Inside the metal sphere, which unscrews into two halves, is an iron cup that held hot charcoal. This clever design allowed the hands to be warmed without getting burnt.
Medieval hand-warmers, such as this one, were predominantly used by priests as they celebrated Mass. During long sermons, inside the chilly, unheated churches of the Middle Ages, the priest’s hands often became numb due to the cold. This led to the very real possibility that the Blessed Sacrament might be dropped during the service, something that was extremely frowned upon. To prevent this from happening some of the larger and more affluent churches invested in these decorative hand-warmers.
Probably originally from England, the artefact now forms part of the Hunt Museum’s collection in Limerick.
Armitage, H. (ed.) 2002 The Hunt Museum. Essential Guide. Scala Publishers, London. p. 129