Shrine boss

Irish, AD 700-750
From Steeple Bumpstead, Essex, England

Reused as the handle-plate on the parish church

This once sumptuously decorated boss would originally have been attached to a shrine, along with four others, to form a cross-shape. It was apparently found in the church during construction work, stored in a chest and then attached to the chancel door where it was noted in 1842.

The boss was cast from a wax or lead form in bronze and then thickly gilded. The decoration is divided into bands of different ornament. Each band is divided into panels by a variety of twenty-four settings. These are now all empty but once held glass, crystal or amber giving the boss a rich glittering appearance. Four highly stylized lions crouch on the sides and divide the boss into quarters. At the top is a ring of black niello framing plain gold troughs once filled with panels of filigree. The ring surrounds a big hole where a large setting once lay. On the sides is a band of complex animal interlace while on the bands below and above there is trumpet and spiral decoration.

The accomplished decoration and casting is exceptional and is at the pinnacle of Irish art. In this respect it shares qualities with aristocratic pieces such as the Londesborough brooch, also in The British Museum. The battered state of this boss can only hint at what must have been a magnificent shrine and shows years of use as the backplate to a door handle.

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More information


F. Henry, Irish art During the Early Chr (London, Methuen, 1965)

S.M. Youngs (ed.), The work of angels: masterpiec (London, The British Museum Press, 1989)

S.M. Youngs, 'The Steeple Bumpstead Boss' in The age of migrating ideas (Edinburgh, National Museums of Scotland, 1993), pp. 143-50


Diameter: 13.500 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1916,7-5,1


Gift of H. Oppenheimer


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