Medieval devotional panel found by Thames

This wonderful medieval devotional panel was found on the River 14 century devotional panel found in ThamesThames foreshore in London.   It is an outstanding example of  the kind of  decorative religious object sold at pilgrimage sites in the medieval period to commemorate and venerate saints and martyrs.   So it could well be that similar things were on sale at the monastic church at Waltham, particularly the Great Augustinian Abbey as the panel found dates from the 14th century.

The devotional panel is now on display at the Museum of London.   Depicting the capture, trial and execution of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, political rebel turned martyr, the object was discovered by archaeologists from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology), whilst excavating by the River Thames in  London.

You can read the whole story here.

Magdeburg Cathedral bones confirmed as oldest English royal remains

Confirmation that bones found in a tomb in Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany, are of  a Saxon princess, the oldest English royal remains to be found.   The bones are part of the body of the Saxon princess Eadgyth, the granddaughter of King Alfred the Great, who died more than 1,000 years ago.

The tomb where they were found was first investigated in 2009, but it was then believed the bones had been moved.   Two years ago German archaeologists opened the tomb, expecting it to be empty, but found it contained a lead box with the inscription, “The remains of Queen Eadgyth are in this sarcophagus”.   The bones were inside, wrapped in silk.

The latest techniques have been used by experts from the University of Mainz and the University of Bristol to analyze the bones and some teeth found in the upper jaw.   It was discovered they belonged to a female who died aged between 30 and 40;  that the woman was a frequent horse rider and ate a high protein diet with large amounts of fish, which suggested she had enjoyed an aristocratic lifestyle.   This did not prove, however, that they were the bones of Queen Eadgyth.  What has been described as “some exceptional science” was needed to prove that.   By studying tiny samples of tooth enamel, researchers were able to establish that the woman must have spent the first 14 years of her life in the chalk regions of southern Britain, and that fitted in with historical records of Eadgyth’s early years in Wessex.   She must have moved around the kingdom following her father, King Edward the Elder, during his reign.   When her mother was divorced in AD 919, and she was about nine, both of them were banished to a monastery in Wessex.

Eadgyth’s half brother, Athelstan, the first king to rule all of England, gave her in marriage to King Otto I, the Holy Roman Emperor, in AD 929.   She lived most of her married life in Magdeburg, capital of Saxony-Anhalt, and had at least two children.   She died in AD 946 at the age of about 36, and was buried at the monastery of St Maurice in Switzerland, but her bones were moved serveral times, until eventually being placed in the richly carved tomb in Magdeburg Cathedral in 1510.

The princess will be laid to rest later this year when her bones are reburied in Magdeburg Cathedral – exactly 500 years after their last interment in 1510.

Mediaeval manuscripts used as dust jackets

We have found a really interesting story about how mediaeval manuscripts were used in the 17th and 18th centuries as “stuffing” in the binding of books or as dust jackets.   And it comes from Edmonton, not the one near us, but Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada.

The story starts like this:-  “The book before me is huge and heavy, bound, not in paper or cardboard, but with planks of solid oak, held together by thick cords.   It looks like a prop from a fantasy film. It’s actually a Latin dictionary, published in the early 1700s.”   But here’s the secret:-   “But as old as the dictionary appears, it hides a secret far older.   Inside the heavy oak cover is a parchment liner.    Other pieces of the same parchment are stuffed into the spine, to bind the book block together.   The parchment wrapper is far older than the dictionary:  a medieval manuscript, hand-written on calfskin vellum.”

The book is usually kept in a vault  at the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, at the University of Alberta, and there is no record of when or how the book arrived in its collection.  

A group of students and staff at the university is “prospecting” for lost mediaeval book pages blithely recycled and reused by commercial printers, centuries later, to create durable bindings for “mass-produced” books hot off the post-Gutenberg presses that put those long-forgotten scribes out of work.   Some of the books have dust jackets made out of 800-year-old sheet music, or illuminated manuscripts with real gold leaf, which still shines today.   

And now the people at the university are using modern technology to identify the scraps of manuscripts.   They type a few of the words of the Latin text into Google Books, and, in the case of the wooden bound book mentioned above, they are informed in an instant that it is “a copy of the Justinian Code, the foundational books of laws inherited from the Roman Empire, upon which mediaeval law was largely based.”

What an amazing story, which can be read in full here:      old-books-hide-even-older-secrets-from-middle-ages

Published in: on October 23, 2012 at 4:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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Senlac Hill or Crowhurst – Where was the battle fought!

Today we came across a new-to-us website, which looks of great interest to those interested in King Harold II, the last Anglo Saxon King of England.   It is called Secrets of the Norman Invasion, and is all about a suggested alternative Sussex site of the Norman invasion and battlesite.   It says:-

“This blog is to keep people up to date with what is happening at the investigations that are taking place in Crowhurst and at Upper Wilting Farm, where the Normans landed and fought the most famous battle in history.   This unique heritage site is World Heritage Site potential, now under threat again from the development of the A259 link road.

Archaeological investigation is taking place at the site, and a large number of artefacts have been found.   The site is threatened by a proposed road development.   There is also a book called   The Secrets Of The Norman Invasion   by Nick Austin.

Here’s the link to the website.

Wonderful medieval crozier and ring found at Furness Abbey

English Heritage has announced that rare medieval treasures will be on  display at Furness Abbey, Cumbria, over the May bank holiday weekend.

During emergency repairs at the Abbey, a grave was found believed to be that of an Abbot, and in it were a medieval silver gilt crozier of the kind which an Abbot would have had, and a jewelled ring.   The head of the crozier is particularly beautiful and is decorated with gilded silver medallions showing the Archangel Michael defeating a dragon.   The end of the crook is decorated with a serpent’s head, and a small section of the painted wooden staff survives.   The ring is gilded silver set with a gemstone of white rock crystal or white sapphire.

Furness was one of the richest and most powerful Cistercian Abbeys, being founded in the 1120s.   By 2010, the walls had started to crack as their rotting medieval wooden foundations gave way.   Oxford Archaeology North carried out excavations to determine the seriousness of the problem, and uncovered the undisturbed grave.   The skeleton showed that the man was between 40 and 50, and the crozier and ring suggested that it was the burial place of an Abbot. 

The grave could be as early as the 1150s, and was in the presbytery, the most prestigious position in the church.

The full story is on the English Heritage website here