The Hockley pendant

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Room 40: Medieval Europe 

Object details

Width: 25 mm
Length: 33 mm
Museum number: 2012,8046.1

Purchased with the assistance of the British Museum Friends and the Art Fund

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The Hockley Pendant

Found in Hockley, Essex, England, early 16th century AD

The Hockley Pendant is a diamond-shaped reliquary dating from the beginning of the sixteenth century, and would have been worn by a wealthy individual as a discreet statement of piety.

The decoration reveals the dual nature of religious jewellery in the early sixteenth century, as a decoration and a holy amulet. The pendant is an excellent example of the intertwining of the secular and the religious in the Middle Ages. The front shows a sombre Saint Helena supporting the cross while the back shows the Five Wounds of Christ, from his hands, feet and heart. Around the rim are inscribed the names of the Three Magi (or Wise Men): Casper, Melchior and Balthazar.

At just over three centimetres high, there is a stunning level of evocative detail carved onto this piece. The cross shows the flecked grains of wood and the Five Wounds of Christ weep blood shaped like tears which rain down the pendant.

Originally, the flowers, wounds and names of the Magi would have been filled with painted enamel. The interplay between gold and enamel was a particularly dramatic feature of late medieval metalwork, and gives us an indication of the high level of skill involved in creating such an intricate piece of jewellery.

The interior of the pendant is now empty, but it would once have held a relic, possibly of the True Cross, which was said to have been brought by St Helena to Constantinople from the Holy Land, and was thought to be the cross on which Christ was crucified.

The pendant was discovered in 2010 in a field in Hockley, Essex in the east of England by a four year-old boy. It was acquired by the British Museum through the Treasure Act.



M. Bagnoli, H. Klein, C Griffith Mann, J. Robinson, Teasures of Heaven, saints, relics and devotion in medieval Europe, London, British Museum Press, 2011