- Museum number
Cast, copper alloy openwork censer-cover. It is of architectural form, resembling a church tower with a plinth at the base decorated on all four sides with punched ornament. At each corner is a perforated lug, through which a narrow rod attached to a suspension chain passed, allowing the cover to be raised so that the bowl could be filled with incense. Above the base is a four-sided openwork arcade, composed of rectilinear columns with stepped bases and round-headed arches, all decorated with punched dots and crescents. Each triangular gable above has five rows of scalloped shingles and a stubby animal head projects from each angle like a gargoyle. The tie-beams of three of the gables are decorated with punched ornament as before, but the fourth bears an inscription in Old English. The inscription is badly spaced, and the last letter appears on the side of the projecting animal head at the corner of the gable. The domicular roof consists of four openwork lozenge-shaped panels decorated in relief, with ridged borders ornamented with a double row of punched crescents. At the bottom of each panel is a foliate spray. Standing on this is a bird, its elongated body decorated with punching. The head is turned back to bite at another foliate spray lying across the field. Immediately above is a similar bird, upside-down, below a lozenge-shaped motif. The roof is crowned by an oval knop surmounted by a boldly modelled animal head.
- Production date
Height: 9.70 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Webster et al 1984
Although it is typologically similar to the censer-cover from Canterbury (reg. no. 1927,1116.1), the ornament on this example is not susceptible to close dating. The odd, duck-like creatures in the lozenge-shaped panels are broadly comparable to Winchester-style birds with their exaggerated claws, but no exact contemporary parallels for them can be found.
All three censer-covers surviving from the late Anglo-Saxon period share this architectural form (Wilson 1964, nos 9, 44 and 56), which later developed into the more elaborate type with numerous towers and turrets described by Theophilus in the twelfth century (Hawthorne, J.G. and Smith, C.S. 1963, ‘On Divers Arts. The Treatise of Theophilus’, Chicago, 132-8). The roof on this censer-cover is of particular interest, as it may be compared with the shape of the so-called 'Rhenish Helm' tower which can be seen at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Sompting, Sussex (Taylor, H. and Taylor, J. 1965, ‘Anglo-Saxon Architecture’ vols 1 and 2, Cambridge, 558-62, fig. 272), which must have been constructed just after the Conquest. Similar arcaded buildings with wooden shingled roofs can be seen in some eleventh-century manuscripts, for instance in f.32, the Destruction of Sodom, of Ælfric's Hexateuch (British Library, Cotton MS Claudius B.IV (cat. 157)), and in the Bayeux Tapestry (Stenton, F.M. ed. 1957, ‘The Bayeaux Tapestry’, London, PLS. 4, 32); but these parallels do little more than provide a broad background against which this censer-cover may be placed, and are of limited use in assessing its date.
It is tempting to speculate that the Godric who inscribed his name upon this object may have been a metalworker attached to the Abbey of Pershore, like his namesake who was working at a slightly later date at nearby Evesham under the direction of Abbot Mannig, and is recorded as having made a gold and silver shrine studded with gems for the relics of St Ecgwine around 1058 (Dodwell, C.R. 1982, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art: A New Perspective’, Manchester, 65-6).
Provenance: Pershore, Worcestershire; found in a mass of gravel whilst digging a cellar between 1759 and 1769. Formerly in the collections of the Reverend Thomas Beale, O.G. Knapp and Miss L.E. Lucas; purchased by the Museum in 1960.
Exhibitions: St Albans, Town Hall 1905, no. 9.
Bibliography: Page, R.I. 1964, Anglo-Saxon Runes and Magic, ‘Journal of the British Archaeological Association’, 3rd ser. 27, 26; Wilson, D.M. 1964, ‘Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork 700-1100 in the British Museum, Catalogue of Antiquities of the Later Saxon Period’, I, London, no. 56 and refs, PL. XXVII; Page, R.I. 1970, ‘Life in Anglo-Saxon England’, London, 126; Okasha, E. 1971, ‘A Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions’, Cambridge, no. 100 and refs; Page, R.I. 1973, ‘An Introduction to English Runes’, London, 201; Wilson, D.M. 1975, Tenth-Century Metalwork, ‘Tenth Century Studies’ ed. D. Parsons, London, 204; Campbell, J. ed. 1982, ‘The Anglo-Saxons’, Oxford, 181, no. 157; Okasha, E. 1983, A Supplement to Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions, ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ 11, 117 and refs; Wilson, D.M. 1984, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art’, London, 13, 158, PL. 209.
The account in 'The Gentleman's Magazine', 1779, records that it was 'found a few years ago in a mass of gravel in digging a cellar near the middle of the town of Pershore'. A note in the handwriting of its first owner, the Rev. Thomas Beale (filed as a document in the Department of British and Medieval Antiquities at the British Museum) records that it was discovered ' as far as is recollected between 1759 and 1769' (at this latter date Beale was curate at Pershore). It remained in the Beale family until it was purchased by the Museum on the death of Miss L. E. Lucas, a descendant of the original owner.
See pp. 34, 44, 47, 53, 75, 79, 84, 88 and pl. XXVII.
Bibliography: 'Gentleman's Magazine', xlix (1779), 536 and li (1780) 75 and 128; Brassington, W. S.: Historie Worcestershire, Birmingham . . ./London, n.d., 108. 'Victoria History of the Counties of England: Worcestershire', i, 233; 'English Church History Exhibition, St. Albans', 1905, 3 and fig. 1; Romilly Allen, J. (1906): 'The Thurible of Godric', The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist, new series, xii, 50-3; 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London', xxi (1906), 52-9; Jackson, C. J. (1911): History of English Plate, London, i, 87-8 and figs. 118 and 119; Brøndsted, J. (1924) 'Early English Ornament', London/Copenhagen, 264 and fig. 188; Tonnochy, A. B. (1932): 'A Romanesque Censer-cover in the British Museum', Archaeological Journal, 89, 2; Tonnochy, A. B. (1937): 'The Censer in the Middle Ages ', Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 3rd series, ii, 54; Talbot Rice, D. (1952): English Art, 871-1100, Oxford, 232-3 and figs. 15 and 16; Arbman, H. (1958): 'Die Kremsmünsterer Leuchter', Meddelanden från Lunds Universitets Historiska Museum, 189-90; Sotheby & Co., Catalogue of Sale of June 17th 1960, 8-9 and pl.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2001 18 Jan-18 Mar, Leeds, Henry Moore Institute, Homes for the Soul: Micro-Architecture in Medieval & Contemporary Art
- There is slight damage to one of the lozenge-shaped panels, and the suspension chains and incense bowl are lost.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- found 1759-1769
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number