- Museum number
Almost square gold plaque with an attachment hole at each corner. A niello-inlaid line acts as a border on the lower three sides, but the blank area around each hole indicates that they were filled by a circular bossed rivet. The niello-inlaid decoration consists of a half-length zoo-anthropomorphic symbol of St John with eagle head and human hands which hold a book and pen. Around the evangelist symbol is an inscription. The back is undecorated, except for a free-hand incised assembly mark.
- Production date
Length: 34 millimetres
Width: 34 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Webster & Backhouse 1991
Excavations of c. 1.2 ha of a sand island beside the River Ouse have uncovered about one half of a well-defined settlement which is dated to the Middle Saxon (600-900) period by its finds. Apart from some Iron Age farming and a very small amount of Late Saxon occupation there is no domestic settlement use of the site outside the Middle Saxon period, and no other form of contamination or disturbance has affected the Saxon layers. The excavated elements of the site include thirty-five buildings, church and cemetery and a cloth-processing industrial area.
The quality of finds is generally very high, many being the products of highly skilled craftsmen, using precious metal or being imported to the site. The buildings are well constructed within the established tradition of this period; apart from the church they are apparently domestic in use. The accessories of the ecclesiastical world, literacy (represented by inscribed objects and styli) and prestigious devotional objects such as this St John plaque are prominent, and prompt the suggestion that this was a monastic community. The arrangement of the settlement combines elements of informality within domestic enclosures, but also an overall arrangement which has placed emphasis on the location and accessibility of the church, and also on a group of high-quality buildings which accompany the church. The indications are that the settlement was high on the social scale, and that it may well have had a monastic component introduced early in its life.
The plaque was found in 1978 on the edge of the site at Brandon shortly before excavation began, and reinforces the impression of high status given by the objects found there in controlled conditions. It is evidently one of a set of four, each with an evangelist symbol; it seems likely that these formed the terminals of a cross or were set in a book cover. The lack of a niello frame bordering the plaque's upper edge suggests that it could have been placed at the bottom of a cross stem, though this would certainly be an unusual position for the eagle of St John, which normally occupies the topmost position.
The use of a zoo-anthropomorphic symbol type is unusual in Insular art, but can be paralleled, for example, in the Book of Kells, and on the eleventh-century Brussels Cross. The elegant precision of both lettering and figure-drawing mark this out as a piece of the highest quality made for a wealthy patron or establishment. The crisp execution and fluid but economic use of line recall the evangelist portraits of the Book of Cerne (Cambridge, University Library, MS Ll.1.10), though its quality is superior.
The inscription is executed in angular square capitals of Insular Phase II variety. The letter forms stem ultimately from the characteristic display script developed in an Hiberno-Saxon context c.700, but in their homogeneity and clarity of form they relate to the manner in which capitals are employed in Tiberius group manuscripts, notably the Book of Cerne. Particular points of comparison with the latter may be found in the inscriptions accompanying the evangelist portraits in Cerne. Similar thin, angular square capitals are employed, notably S and G, and A is inclined to the left by means of a head-stroke. However, the Brandon plaque eschews the calligraphic curvilinear extensions applied to certain of the Cerne letter-strokes. It also differs from Cerne in its precise disposition of the components of the inscription around the figure. In Cerne the inscriptions, although curiously spaced, flow from left to right, whereas on the plaque the words are disposed on either side of the figure.
Select bibliography: Webster, L.E. An Anglo-Saxon plaque with the symbol of St John the Evangelist, in ‘Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities: New Acquisitions I (1976-8)’, part 1, British Museum Occasional Paper 10, London, 11-14; Okasha, E. 1983, A Supplement to Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions, ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ 11, 83-118, cat. 159; Carr, R.D., Tester, A. and Murphy, P. 1988, The Middle Saxon Settlement at Staunch Meadow, Brandon, ‘Antiquity’ LXII, 371-7.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2015-2016, 24 Sep- 31 Jan, Lichfield, Lichfield Cathedral, Anglo-Saxon Books and Literacy.
2010-2011 2 Oct-23 Jan, Norwich Castle Museum, The Art of Faith
2008 15 Mar-2 Nov, Woodbridge, Suffolk, Sutton Hoo Visitor Centre, 'East Anglia: The Life and Death of a Kingdom'
1982 3 Apr-31 Oct, York, Yorkshire Museum, The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland
1981 5 Sep-31 Dec, Denmark, Århus, Moesgård Museum, The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland
1981 11 Apr-16 Aug, Denmark, Copenhagen, The Danish National Museum, The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number