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The Bowleaze Cove jewel


Length: 28.000 mm

Purchased with the assistance of National Heritage Memorial Fund and the National Art Collections Fund

M&ME 1993,1-2,1

    The Bowleaze Cove jewel

    Anglo-Saxon, late 9th century AD
    Found at Bowleaze Cove near Weymouth, Dorset, England

    A teaching aid for the revival of learning?

    This gold and glass fitting was apparently found in a landslip at the bottom of cliffs in March 1990. A gold rivet passes through the end of the narrow socket which would have held a rod of wood or ivory in place, making this the handle or head of the fitting. It is most probably from a manuscript pointer, an implement used to guide the eye along the lines of text, for instance, in a teaching context.

    The socket and domed terminal are framed with beaded wire, and the upper surface of the terminal is decorated with a central blue glass setting framed in beaded wire and surrounded by granulation, some now missing. The back-plate is missing, and there is other slight damage, possibly caused in the landslip.

    Four other related fittings are known, of varying degrees of complexity in their decoration. The most elaborate, known as the Alfred Jewel, bears an inscription associating it with Alfred ('The Great'), King of Wessex, AD 871-899. They are generally thought to be associated with the religious and educational reforms initiated by Alfred. As part of these initiatives, he ordered that translations into Old English of Pope Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care (AD 590-604) should be distributed to each diocese in Wessex. With each of these, a valuable manuscript pointer was also distributed, at Alfred's express command. Although it is not as elaborate as some of the others, the Bowleaze Cove jewel may well be the handle of such a pointer.

    L. Webster, 'Aedificia nova: Treasures of Alfred's reign' in Alfred the Great (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2003)

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


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