Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Shield-shaped pendant
  • Creator:
  • Description: Shield-shaped pendant

    This unique, shield-shaped pendant was discovered in an elaborate burial at the Street House Cemetery in North Yorkshire, England. It possesses a gold base upon which a framework of extremely thin gold bands is set. Fifty-seven cloisonné gemstones, each in a separate cell, are placed within this framework. Due to the small size of the cells, scholars believe old garnet was reused in this pendant; such reuse was an established 7th century practice.

    The centerpiece of this pendant is a larger gemstone with a series of incised lines forming a scallop shape. This shape has been associated with the pagan past, namely Aphrodite and Venus, and their associations with love, childbirth, and fertility. However, it is possible that the shape of this pendant indicates that its wearer had a connection to Christianity. The scallop shape is a symbol of fertility, as well as pilgrimage. However, scholars urge caution when applying this Christian iconography to the pendant because a parallel in Anglo-Saxon jewelry has not yet been found.

    There are many scratches on this piece that indicate the object had been well worn, repaired, and possibly incorporated gemstones from earlier pieces of jewelry. All of these hints of use and repair suggest that this was a valued heirloom. The quality of workmanship in constructing the pendant is reminiscent of that of the best craft workers in the Anglo-Saxon world or in continental Europe. The only piece of Anglo-Saxon jewelry that is of the same caliber of workmanship and comes from the same area is St. Cuthbert’s Cross. It is significant that jewelry of this quality was worn only by church leaders or high lords because such knowledge helps to reveal the social status of the pendant’s wearer.

    It is highly likely that the wearer was a member of the local aristocracy, probably a princess, a queen, a high-born lady, or a high-status outsider. She was placed in a burial bed which was a tradition for noblewomen; the bed discovered at Street House was very ornate. The positioning of the other graves around this central site and the short time that this cemetery was in use suggest that this woman was the leader of a pagan cult at a time when Christianity was becoming more prominent. Her jewelry may have carried connotations of protection which would have extended to her followers. The most likely candidates for ownership of the jewelry are Ethelburga, the wife of King Edwin of Northumbria and a convert to Christianity who was made a saint, Eanflaed, the wife of King Oswiu, or Oswiu’s daughter, Aelflaed.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Archaeology Burial Beds Burials Cemeteries Cult Practices England- North Yorkshire- Loftus- Street House Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Gems Gold Grave Goods Jewelry Paganism Princesses Scallop Shells
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 7
  • Date: 600- 700
  • Related Work: See the film Kirkleatham Anglo Saxon Princess Treasure with archaeologist Steve Sherlock on YouTube.
  • Current Location: North Yorkshire, Redcar and Cleveland, Kirkleatham Museum
  • Original Location: England, North-East Yorkshire, Loftus, Street House Cemetery
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Metalwork; Jewelry
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Gold; Garnet; Cloisonne;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): .9/2.7/3.7
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Catling, Chris. "Buried in a Royal Bed: Street House Anglo-Saxon Cemetery." Current Archaeology, Issue 281 (August 2013); Pgs. 20-27;
    Sherlock, Steven J. A Royal Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Street House, Loftus, North-East Yorkshire. Tees Archaeology Monograph Series, No. 6. (2012);
    Viegas, Jennifer. "Bejeweled Anglo-Saxon Burial Suggests Cult at Loftus (Redcar). Discovery News. (April 11, 2008);
    Williams, Howard. "Engendered Bodies and Objects of Memory in Final Phase Graves." in Studies in Funerary Archaeology, Volume 4: Burial in Later Anglo-Saxon England, C. 650-1100 AD edited by Buckberry, Jo and Annia Cherryson. Oxbow Books, 2010. Pgs. 26-37;
    Yorke, Barbara. "'The Weight of Necklaces': Some Insights into the Wearing of Women's Jewelry from Middle Saxon Written Sources." in Studies in Early Anglo-Saxon Art and Archaeology: Papers in Honor of Martin G. Welch edited by Brookes, Stuart, Sue Harrington, and Andrew Reynolds. Archaeopress, 2011. 106-111.;