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11.05.2021

Water Newton Treasure

Water Newton Treasure is a fourth century Roman silver treasure discovered near the location of the Roman town of Durobrivae at Water Newton in the English county of Cambridgeshire in 1975. The treasure consisted of 27 pieces of silver and one small gold plaque. Because of the inscriptions found on some of the items in the collection, it has been suggested that they may have been used in a local church and therefore constitute the earliest probable group of Christian liturgical silver found in the Roman Empire.

The treasure was discovered while plowing in February 1975; several items had been damaged by the plow. It was probably buried by a resident of the nearby Roman fortified garrison town of Durobriva. There are nine silver vessels, and the remaining objects are votive tokens with engraved and embossed labarum ( chi-ro cross ), mostly triangular in shape. Larger objects include jugs, bowls, plates, a strainer and an unengraved standing cup with two handles in the shape ( cantharous ), which was later used as a bowl .

Because of the importance of this find, it is now in the British Museum, and part of the original hoard was on display at the Peterborough Museum until January 2019.

Decorated silver jug, height 20.3 cm, maximum width 11.6 cm, weight 534 g. The jug is the most elaborately decorated, mostly finished piece in the group, with acanthus-type leaf motifs in several areas and swirling leaves. The individual handle is detached; the fragment was part of the hoard. 

Bottom part of a hanging bowl, 18-19 cm wide, weight 220.4 g. In fact, this is only the lower part of a large but very thin shallow pendant bowl designed for observation from outside and possibly used as a lamp. The embossing decoration worked on the outside, leaving the pattern in relief when viewed from the inside. Other fragments were also found, including rings for hanging and scraps of chain, as well as parts of the rim. In all, nine areas of decoration and molding were found. Several very similar bowls have been found in France and Ireland; the decoration may have mimicked faceted glass bowls. The fragment is now displayed around a Plexiglas support which shows the original full dimensions.

Painted silver bowl, height 11.5 cm, width 17 cm, weight 663 g. Badly damaged at the base on one side of the bowl has inscriptions: under the base the name "PUBLIANUS" and along the edge a regular hexameter line : "SANCTUM ALTARE TUUM DOMINE SUBNIXUS HONORO" engraved next to two monograms chi-ro. The exact context of the inscriptions has been debated, but "O Lord, I, Publian, relying on you, honor your holy altar.  So the cup is marked as an offering and associates the treasure with the church or perhaps with a private chapel in a large house. Although it does not resemble other ancient bowls known for Christian worship, it may indeed be the oldest known bowl in existence. Its design is reminiscent of the bowl depicted in the mosaics of the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. Melchizedek and Abel make offerings not to a pagan altar with fire, but to a table covered with a white cloth. It shows two loaves of bread and a jeweled specimen bowl with handles identical to the Newton Water Bowl.

Most of the items found are small plaques that were probably affixed to the wall of the church as vow offerings. Some have nail holes, such as a single gold plaque, and one has an inscription stating that "Anicilla fulfilled the vow she had promised." The triangular "leaf" shape of most of these was originally pagan, but the chi-ro monogram on these examples makes them the first finds to show that this practice was adopted by Christians.

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