Brandon plaque

Anglo-Saxon, early 9th century AD
From Brandon, Suffolk, England

St John the Evangelist with the head of an eagle

This gold plaque was found by a fisherman by the River Ouse at Brandon in 1978. It comes from what was a high-status Saxon settlement with strong religious connections.

The square of gold is finely engraved and inlaid with black niello. The powerful image is of an unusual figure with the body of a man dressed in robes and holding in his hands a quill pen and book, and the head of a fierce eagle. A Latin inscription reading SCS EVANGELISTA IOHANNIS ('St John the Evangelist') fills the space around the figure. This explains the eagle-head, because the eagle is the symbol of St John, Evangelist and writer of one of the Christian Gospels. The book and pen also represent his Gospel.

Holes at the four corners suggest that the plaque may have been set into a standing cross or onto a book cover. The plain back has a small letter 'a' as a guide for assembling the original object. This plaque will have once been part of a set of four, with three more depicting the symbols of the other three Gospel writers, the Evangelists St Mark (a lion), St Matthew (a man) and St Luke (a bull).

The mix of man and symbol is clever and unusual, while the lettering is of high quality. It is a unique survival in metal of the kind of decoration found in the finest manuscripts of the period.

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More information

Bibliography

E. Okasha, 'A supplement to the handlist of Anglo-Saxon non-runic inscriptions', Anglo-Saxon England, 11 (1983)

S. West, A corpus of Anglo-Saxon metalw (East Anglian Archaeology, Report no. 84, 1998)

L. Webster and J. Backhouse, The making of England: Anglo-S, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

Dimensions

Length: 34.000 mm
Width: 34.000 mm

Museum number

M&ME 1978,11-1,1

MCS18036

Location

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