Anglo-Saxon bed burial cross gifted to museum

The gold and garnet pectoral cross found in a bed burial of a wealthy young Anglo-Saxon girl has been donated to University of Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA). Landowners Gosvenor gifted the rare and valuable piece to the museum under the terms of the 1996 Treasures Act, forgoing the ex gratia reward the landowners of a treasure find are entitled to. In this case, the reward for the cross along was likely to be more than £80,000, so this is a significant donation for a company to make on a purely pecuniary level.

That’s nothing compared to its historical value. The 7th century grave was discovered in 2011 by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit in the village of Trumpington Meadows just three miles south of Cambridge during a survey excavation of a site slated for development. The teenager had been laid to rest on a bed, probably the one she had slept on in life, adorned with her most precious gold and garnet jewels. While most of her bed was gone, its wood frame and straw mattress decayed to nothingness, the iron brackets did survive to bear witness to what had once been her final resting furnishings. This was only the 15th bed burial ever found in Britain.

At her neck, archaeologists found a gold and garnet pectoral cross. Intricate in design with the highest quality craftsmanship, the cross is only the fifth of its kind ever found. The finely worked gold and cut garnets are reminiscent of several pieces in the Staffordshire Hoard and archaeologists believe they were reserved for the wealthiest, most important people, which would make the young lady one of the elite of Anglo-Saxon society, perhaps even royalty.

The early date of the find is also immensely significant because the cross marks the girl as one of the earliest Christian Anglo-Saxons known. Christianity spread throughout Anglo-Saxon society from the top down, so it’s eminently possible that she was an early convert. The presence of additional grave goods characteristic of pre-Christian funerary practices underscore what a transitional time. Those grave goods, including another splendid piece of gold and garnet jewelry (a pin), an iron knife, glass beads and a chain which hung off her belt, are also part of the MAA collection now.

The cross and other grave goods from the very rare bed burial will be put on temporary display while a new bespoke display case is created to show off the cross to its full advantage.

The Museum also hopes to host public lectures at which the context and significance of the cross will be explained.

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the importance of this magnificent and mysterious cross is recognised locally, nationally and internationally through research, exhibition and publication,” added [MMA Senior Curator Judy] Joy.

“The Trumpington Cross offers unique insights into the origins of English Christianity and we feel very lucky to be able to put it on display at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology just a few, short miles away from where this beautiful artefact was discovered.”

14 thoughts on “Anglo-Saxon bed burial cross gifted to museum

  1. Family business – What is a duke without land? – Looking at the last pictures, the garnet cross is not as bulky as I had thought. Also, I wondered what those four eyelets on the back were used for, but together with the chained ‘double pin’ they do make sense.

    “Ec gelove an godt vader end ec forsacho allum dioboles uuercum [works] and uuordum [words], Thunaer ende Uuôden ende Saxnôte ende allum thêm unholdum thê hira genôtas [companions] sint” (I believe in God the Father and I forsake all devilish works and words, Thunar and Wodan and Saxnot and all those Unfriendly that their companions are) 👿

  2. “I believe in God the Father and I forsake all devilish works and words, Thunar and Wodan and Saxnot and all those Unfriendly that their companions are… good grief, is it Wodansday already!”

  3. Just as a swastika isn’t necessarily a Nazi symbol, a cross shape isn’t necessarily a Christian symbol. The cross may have been simply decorative, no?

  4. How old does a grave need to be before academics can violate it? 2,000 years? 1,000? 500 years? In other words if one is buried today when could they expect their grave to be compromised? Are there guidelines for history academia? I’m not being judgmental just curious.

  5. I don’t mind if at some point my grave is violated, provided the excavators show due respect by kissing my ash. :skull:

  6. In the Diocese of Uttoxeter (to Saxons the diocese formerly known as ‘Wuttuceshǣddre‘), Salvation with ‘volume targeting‘ might be an option.

    PS: As in life, your time ‘on the spot’ is limited – i.e. where space is limited, anything above a few decades would be an exception.

  7. The Duke of Westminster who died in 2016 was a good egg.

    Perhaps his son is a good egg too. He’s a descendant of Pushkin, which may well have no bearing at all on his ovate characteristics.

  8. At the time Christianity was becoming the religion of the upper classes, so it is not unreasonable to think that this girl was a Christian.And I find conflating the swastika with a cross as a bit–to put it politely–controversial.

  9. I’m torn by the concept of using the term “treasure” in a situation where clearly this is a young lady laid to rest with this jewelry. As another wrote, how long does it take before it’s ethically acceptable to basically plunder a grave.
    On one side, if left alone, someone would steal the gold and it would be lost. The other if given to a museum, it would be protected and become a noteworthy scholarly item.
    Thus my proposal, if said “treasure” is found and financially prosperous for the land owner, since items we’re interned, a respectable protection should be given to the grave occupants.
    Of course this could be the case, with the obvious focus on the article being the artifacts.
    Curious what happened to the young ladies remains. Hopefully not in a metal drawer in a basement. What genetic studies and forensic data was extrapolated?

  10. “Ec gelove an godt vader end ec forsacho allum dioboles uuercum [works] and uuordum [words]..”

    I am again surprised at how easy it is for me, as a Dutch person, to read this sentence. I can translate it in current Dutch like this:

    “Ik geloof in god de vader en ik verzaak alle duivelse werken en woorden”

    It is not an entirely logical sentence to the modern hearer though, we would usually say ‘alle werken en woorden van de duivel’ these days.

  11. “Over de taal waarin het stuk geschreven staat bestaat onduidelijkheid. Veel Nederlandse onderzoekers zien de tekst als een Oudnederfrankische taalvariant, in Duitsland wordt het als Oudsaksisch beschouwd.” 😉

    “Ec gelove an godt vader end ec forsacho allum dioboles uuercum and uuordum..”
    “Ik geloof in god de vader en ik verzaak alle duivelse werken en woorden..”
    “Ich glaube an gott den vater und ich entsage allen teuflischen werken und worten..”

    In fact, these languages seem to have been very much alike (which does not necessarily mean ‘sublanguages’ and ‘dialects’ were mutually understood). There were Austrasia, Frisia and Saxony, and probably neither the clerical translator nor the (austrasian) Frankish conqueror would make a huge difference, nor would they care about ‘low countries’ or any other particular realm.

    [9th century ‘De Vita Caroli Magni’, on the Saxon War in chapters 7/8]:

    7. “At the conclusion of this struggle, the Saxon war, that seems to have been only laid aside for the time , was taken up again. No war ever undertaken by the Frankish people was carried on with such persistence and bitterness, or cost so much labor, because the Saxons, like almost all the tribes in Germany, were a fierce people, given to the worship of devils, and hostile to our religion, and did not consider it dishonorable to transgress and violate all law, human and divine. Then there were peculiar circumstances that tended to cause a breach of peace every day. Except in a few places, where large forests or mountain ridges intervened and made the bounds certain, the line between ourselves and the Saxons passed almost in its whole extent through an open country, so that there was no end to the murders thefts and arsons on both sides. In this way the Franks became so embittered that they at last resolved to make reprisals no longer, but to come to open war with the Saxons [772]. Accordingly war was begun against them, and was waged for thirty-three successive years with great fury; more, however, to the disadvantage of the Saxons than of the Franks. It could doubtless have been brought to an end sooner, had it not been for the faithlessness of the Saxons. It is hard to say how often they were conquered, and, humbly submitting to the King, promised to do what was enjoined upon them, without hesitation the required hostages, gave and received the officers sent them from the King. They were sometimes so much weakened and reduced that they promised to renounce the worship of devils, and to adopt Christianity, but they were no less ready to violate these terms than prompt to accept them, so that it is impossible to tell which came easier to them to do; scarcely a year passed from the beginning of the war without such changes on their part. But the King did not suffer his high purpose and steadfastness – firm alike in good and evil fortune – to be wearied by any fickleness on their part, or to be turned from the task that he had undertaken, on the contrary, he never allowed their faithless behavior to go unpunished, but either took the field against them in person, or sent his counts with an army to wreak vengeance and exact righteous satisfaction. At last, after conquering and subduing all who had offered resistance, he took ten thousand of those that lived on the banks of the Elbe, and settled them, with their wives and children, in many different bodies here and there in Gaul and Germany [804]. The war that had lasted so many years was at length ended by their acceding to the terms offered by the King; which were renunciation of their national religious customs and the worship of devils, acceptance of the sacraments of the Christian faith and religion, and union with the Franks to form one people.

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