Anglo-Saxon ring engraved with Christian and pagan symbols


The Saffron Walden Museum in Essex has acquired a rare Anglo-Saxon gold ring engraved with a combination of Christian and pagan symbols. The ring was discovered in 2011 by metal detectorist Tony Carter in Uttlesford, Essex, and was declared treasure. In order to buy the ring and four other gold and silver artifacts discovered in the area, the museum had to raised £60,000 and £7,500 in donations. Since the grants were matching funds, the donations were necessary for the whole plan to come together. The campaign was successful and now all five pieces are going on display in a new showcase starting April 5th.

The ring, dubbed the North-Essex Ring, is the centerpiece of the new display. It’s a gold signet ring with a rectangular bezel and a heavy hoop 26.6mm in diameter at the widest point. It weighs a total of 20.1 grams and its composition is 92-94% gold, 5-6% silver and the rest a copper alloy. The square bezel and broad hoop are a Frankish form — for comparison see this Frankish ring from approximately the same period unearthed in the Mulsanne, France, and now in the British Museum — but the decoration on the North-Essex Ring is distinctly Anglo-Saxon.

On the bezel is engraved a belted male figure, possibly naked despite the presence of the belt. There is no visible clothing like the male and female figures on the Mulsanne ring wear. The man is holding a bird in one hand and a staff topped with a cross in the other. Above his head is another bird, bigger and more detailed. Both of the birds have curved beaks, indicating they’re birds of prey and the detail in the larger one identifies it as a Style II design, a zoomorphic style in which whole animals are depicted in an elongated, stylized fashion. Some of the pieces from the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial are decorated in Style II.

The decoration and ring style date the piece to around 580-650 A.D., a period when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Kent, Essex and East Anglia were first introduced to Christianity. Pope Gregory I sent Augustine, a Benedictine monk who would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury, on a mission to convert King Æthelberht of Kent in 597 A.D. The combination of pre-Christian North European motifs and the Christian crossed staff makes the ring an extremely rare example of religious syncretism from this transitional period.

Another of the five objects secured by the Saffron Walden Museum is also a rare example from a transitional period in British history, albeit a much later one. It’s a gold ring from the 16th or early 17th century. The band is decorated with circular medallions in which are engraved scenes from the passion of the Christ. This imagery is Catholic, but from a time when people had to hide their adherence to Roman Catholicism to save their necks.

They don’t have a religious significance, but there are two historically significant gold coins in the new collection. They’re Gallo-Belgic class four gold staters struck in the Somme area in northwest France in the mid-2nd century B.C. Both of them are quite worn, one of them bent along the edge, indicating they were in circulation for some time before winding up in the ground. Very few class four gold staters have been found in Britain, and these are the earliest ever discovered in the district.

The last two artifacts are a silver hooked tag from the 9th century A.D. decorated with stylized animals that once held niello accents although the black enamel is long gone. (it’s known as Trewhiddle-style decoration) and an identified silver object with engraved niello animal figures from the 8th or 9th century.

All of the artifacts will be on display together starting April 5th. The museum has made a replica of the North-Essex Ring available so visitors can handle it and appreciate its size and decoration in person, which I think is a nifty idea that more museums should incorporate in their exhibitions.

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10 Comments »

Comment by anja
2014-04-03 03:22:25

Homeboy needs some pants. :skull:

 
Comment by John H
2014-04-03 09:04:00

I just had to point out the typo in the title: “Anglo-Sazon”.

You can delete this comment if you want.

Comment by livius drusus
2014-04-03 09:57:43

Naw, I’ll take the hit. I like to preserve the historical record even when I come out look like an idiot. Thank you! :thanks:

 
 
Comment by John H
2014-04-03 09:11:39

Is the picture beside the paragraph describing the ring supposed to be a picture of the bezel of ring being described?

In the picture I’m looking at both figures are clothed, the staff doesn’t look like a cross and I don’t see any birds.

I’m thoroughly confused.

 
Comment by John H
2014-04-03 09:14:40

Never mind. The ring being described is in the top picture.

I’m no longer thoroughly confused.

Comment by livius drusus
2014-04-03 09:58:01

Huzzah! :boogie:
If you hover over the images you’ll get a description of them, btw. The second one is the Mulsanne ring.

 
 
Comment by Ann
2014-04-03 18:05:02

That belted man on the ring looks familiar, almost like god Wodan who leaves his two ravens, because he has now found the new christian cross.

From the ‘Old Saxon Baptismal Vow’:
‘End ec forsacho allum dioboles uuercum and uuordum, Thunaer ende Uuôden ende Saxnôte ende allum thêm unholdum thê hira genôtas sint’

(And I forsake all devilish works and words, Thunar and Wodan and Saxnot and all those Unfriendly that are their companions).

 
Comment by Debt serf
2014-04-03 20:20:25

Old saxon baptismal vow! That’s awesome, I’ve never of that before. but it reads like something straight out of the game of thrones … The old gods, the new gods and the god of light ….

 
Comment by Annie Delyth
2014-04-04 10:54:10

Well, rats, that vow sure messes up the family religion. Now have to find one that doesn’t involve giving up our divinities.

 
Comment by John
2014-04-05 05:54:54

No worries. Accosted by a baptised gentleman with a frankish throwing axe in his hand and his latin speaking friend, it might be reasonable to change religion and to vow up a vow unto a new one. Thus, to vow (‘gelobe’) results in belief (‘glaube’): ‘Ec gelove an godt vader… ‘

 
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