Height: 8.500 cm
Gift of Sir A.W. Franks
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
Seal-die of Godwin and Godgytha
Anglo-Saxon, first half 11th century
From Wallingford, Berkshire, England
This seal-die, made from walrus ivory, was discovered in a garden in 1879 with a double-sided walrus ivory comb and a small whetstone (for sharpening blades). Seal-dies were used to make impressions into heated wax either to seal or authenticate letters or other documents.
The front of the handle is carved in high relief with a depiction of God the Father and God the Son with their feet resting upon a human figure. Above them the handle has broken away, but a damaged dove, symbolizing the Holy Ghost, can be made out. The reverse of the handle is plain. The front of the circular portion of the seal-die has been engraved to imitate a coin of King Hathacnut (Danish ruler of England 1039-42). It shows a bearded man holding a sword. This is surrounded by a reversed inscription in Latin, which translates as 'The seal of Godwyn the thegn' (thegn: a nobleman in service to a lord). In a similar fashion, on the reverse, is an engraving of a seated woman. Around this there is a reversed inscription which translates as 'The seal of Godgytha, a nun given to God'. It is likely that the seal-die originally belonged to Godwin, and that Godgytha's engraving was added to the back. She may have been Godwin's wife or daughter who reused the seal-die after his death. Only one other seal of an Anglo-Saxon woman is known, that of Edith of Wilton.
It is a rare object for this period. Although it has Christian imagery, it shows that carved ivories of a high standard were not restricted to Church use alone.
D.M. Wilson, Anglo-Saxon art (London, Thames and Hudson, 1984)
J. Campbell, The Anglo-Saxons (Penguin, 1982)
J. Backhouse, D.H. Turner and L. Webster (eds.), The golden age of Anglo-Saxon, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)