Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Britain's Scattered Heritage": The Alfred Jewel

"Scattered Heritage": The Alfred Jewel is a piece of Anglo-Saxon goldwork dating from the late 9th century made in the reign of King Alfred the Great. It is inscribed "AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN", meaning "Alfred ordered me made". It is about 61 mm long, made of gold woith filigree ornament, enclosing a highly polished piece of "rock crystal" beneath which is set a set a cloisonné enamel plaque, with an image of a man, perhaps Christ, with ecclesiastical symbols. A socket at the base was intended to hold a thin rod or stick.

The object's purpose is unclear, it most likely served as a pointer for following words when reading a book, perhaps one of the precious "æstels" Alfred had sent to each bishopric with a copy of his translation of Pope Gregory the Great's book Pastoral Care.

The jewel was discovered in 1693 at North Petherton near Bridgwater in Somerset on land owned by Sir Thomas Wroth (c. 1675–1721) North Petherton is about 8 miles away from Athelney, where King Alfred had founded a monastery. It was bequeathed to Oxford University by Colonel Nathaniel Palmer (c. 1661-1718) but was looted by Napoleon's troops in 1805 and somehow ended up in the collections of the Hermitage some time after 1815 where it has been ever since. Today a replica of the jewel can be found in the church of North Petherton.

Photo: Alfred Jewel

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