Manus Christi

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

manus christi an interesting term used in sugar confectionery, mainly in the 17th century, when it usually referred to a sugar sweetmeat, often perfumed with rosewater and sometimes having gold leaf mixed in. Laura Mason (1998) describes several sorts and records successfully making one according to an early 17th-century recipe. She also explains that by the 18th century manus christi had become a cordial of sugar and rosewater or violets, administered to those of weak health.

Used in the phrase ‘manus christi height’, the term indicated a degree in sugar boiling, which one would suppose to be the right degree for making manus christi. Karen Hess (1981) mentions a suggestion that a gesture made in testing sugar syrup was thought to resemble that made in the blessing of the host and chalice, and that this gave rise to the name; but she points out that the stage referred to as ‘manus christi height’ was not in fact the stage appropriate for making manus christi (the sweetmeat). The same author remarks on earlier use of the term, in medieval times, when manus christi may have been a somewhat different product with a clearer religious connection. Elements of mystery still surround this term.