Perhaps from its earliest origins, wine has formed a part of many religious ceremonies. Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artwork and early writings illustrate such links, and wine was an important part of widespread cults and religions associated with Dionysus (Bacchus). The beverage is mentioned repeatedly in the Old and New Testament of the Bible, where it is celebrated as a gift from God but sometimes condemned for its inebriating qualities. In Judaism, the Kiddush (blessing recited over the wine) is an integral part of Shabbat (Sabbath) as well as several holiday services. In Christianity, the sacred rite of the Eucharist originated in Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, when Christ shared bread and wine with his disciples.
The Winterthur collection includes an impressive range of early American silver and pewter beakers, chalices, and flagons created as parts of communion services. Also displayed here are objects made for use at home, some with biblical inscriptions or ornamental references to religious themes. Satire of the church was divided along religious and, sometimes, class lines and is represented on some 18th- and 19th-century alcoholic beverage wares. Most common are references to a perceived sense that some churchmen showed greater interest in worldly wealth and a luxurious lifestyle than spreading religious teachings.