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19.03.2021

Middleham Jewel

Middleham Jewel is a late 15th century gold pendant with a large blue sapphire stone. Each side of the diamond-shaped pendant is engraved with religious scenes. It was discovered by a metal detector in 1985 near Middleham Castle, the northern home of Richard III, and acquired by the Yorkshire Museum in York for £2.5 million.

The pendant is a gold pendant weighing 68 grams (2.4 oz) with a 10-carat (2.0 g) blue sapphire set on one side. It measures approximately 6.4 centimeters (2.5 inches) in diameter.

The obverse depicts the Trinity, including the Crucifixion of Jesus, bordered by the Latin inscription "Ecce Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi ... miserere nobis ... tetragramaton ... Ananyzapta" (translation: "Behold the Lamb of God, who removes the sins of the world. Have mercy on us...") is the final, perhaps magical word intended to protect the user from epilepsy. On the reverse is an engraved image of the Nativity with the Lamb of God, framed by the faces of fifteen saints, with some attributes that identify them as Saint Peter and Saint George, Saint Barbara and Saint Margaret of Antioch, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Dorothea of Caesarea and Saint Anne. Suggestions for others include Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Saint Jerome, Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Agnes, Saint Cecilia, Saint Clara of Assisi and Saint Helena or Brigitte of Sweden. Originally, the pendant could be further embellished with enamel on each side and pearls along the edge.

The back panel slides off, revealing a hollow interior, which originally contained three and a half tiny discs of silk embroidered with gold thread. The textile contents identify the jewel as a reliquary containing a fragment of holy cloth. It could have been worn by a woman of high status as a piece for a large necklace. The sapphire may symbolize heaven and may have served as a prayer aid.

This item of high status may have belonged to a relative of Richard III, perhaps his wife Anne Neville, his mother Cecily Neville or his mother-in-law Anne Beauchamp (1426-1492), Widow of Warwick the Kingmaker. The sapphire's blue color (related to the Virgin Mary), the presence of several holy women, and the depiction of nativity scenes suggest that the jewel may have been intended to aid in childbirth. The sapphire set over the Crucifixion may have had other magical or healing properties, as well as curing ulcers, poor eyesight, headaches, and stuttering. The two words following the main Latin text, Tetragrammaton (the Latinized Hebrew name for God) and Ananizapta, may have been used as a spell against epilepsy.

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