A woman’s grave shines light on Britain’s medieval Christianity.
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Last April, a 1,300-year-old gold and gemstone necklace was unearthed in the village of Harpole, about 60 miles northwest of London, on the site of a new housing development. Archaeologists working with the property developer discovered the necklace belonged to a powerful woman who might have been an early Christian religious leader in the region. The find thus shines new light on Britain’s medieval Christianity.
The discovery was made by Lyn Blackmore, an internationally recognized expert in Saxon finds and a senior finds specialist at Museum of London Archaeology with 38 years’ experience of archaeological finds research, specialized in medieval Christianity. According to the article published by Jill Lawless for AP, the body of the woman herself is “long gone – some tooth enamel is all that remains.” And still, as Lawless puts it, “her long-buried trove will shed new light on life in 7th-century England, a time when medieval Christianity was battling with paganism for people’s allegiance.”
Blackmore told Lawless that the items found in the grave are “a definite statement of wealth as well as Christian faith […] She was extremely devout, but was she a princess? Was she a nun? Was she more than a nun – an abbess? … We don’t know.” One of the most interesting pieces found is a rectangular gold pendant with a cross motif inlaid with garnets. The pendant was once the centerpiece of a necklace that included other pendants made from gold Roman coins and semiprecious stone ornaments.
Lawless’ article also explains that researchers claim the burial took place between 630 and 670, the same period as several other graves of high-ranking women found around the British isles. “Earlier high-status burials were mostly men,” Lawless explains, “and experts say the change could reflect women gaining power and status in England’s new Christian faith.” As monastic life expanded, both masculine and feminine, abbots and abbesses became more and more influential.