We’re pleased to announce the launch of our Rutland County Pages. Rutland is our smallest county but it is packed with archaeology, from the Upper Palaeolithic hyena den to coin hoards from the civil war. Learn more about visiting Rutland’s heritage sites or explore archaeological finds from Rutland reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Wendy Scott is the Finds Liaison Officer for Rutland. She is supported by a fantastic team of volunteers and student placements who photograph and record finds, carry out research and much more. Read more about the team here.
Watch this space for more blog posts about volunteering, finds, events and more from Rutland.
A landmark has been reached this week with the addition of the 20,000th record on the PAS database recorded under a PUBLIC- prefix. The facility to record your own finds directly onto the PAS database has been around since March 2010, and to have reached this total in just over six years is remarkable. I would like to use this post to thank the hundreds of volunteers who collectively have contributed to achieving this total. I hope that you are enjoying some of the training and support offered by the PASt Explorers project since we began in late 2014!
Although many volunteers support their Finds Liaison Officers in the reporting of their own finds, many others have helped out on specific projects. Among these projects, the Clodgy Moor Environs Lithic Recording Project in West Cornwall accounts for much of the stunning total of Mesolithic and Neolithic flints recorded by PUBLIC recorders. More recently, a trio of self-recorders have been helping London FLO Kate Sumnall to document the findings of this year’s Greenwich Foreshore Survey, organised by Historic England on a Scheduled Ancient Monument in their care. Amongst the 100 or so finds recovered this year is this stunningly delicate foil pilgrim badge depicting St George and the dragon (PUBLIC-48C99B), while many other discoveries “reflected the everyday life of the area”, Kate reports.
And so to the 20,000th record itself. As things stand it is a sixpence of Elizabeth I, which is just the sort of record which really helps the FLOs with their huge workloads. Why not take a look at some of the records being created by our volunteers; a proportion are still being worked on and will be available for viewing in the future. If you would like to be involved yourself please get in touch with your local FLO to find out more.
The story of the Nativity has been represented in many different formats throughout history.The Virgin Mary and child have been depicted in paintings, sculpture and even on more functional objects. It is a story that is known to all across the Christian world and many more beyond that. It’s no surprise that scenes from the Nativity have been used throughout history to not only recount the story but to also serve a much wider purpose.
The story in summary is as follows: Mary receives word from the Angel Gabriel that she is pregnant with the son of God. Not long after this, Mary and her husband Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to register in the census of Quirinius. At this time, the Roman occupation of Judea called for a record of everyone living in the province by ordering that they return to their town of birth. In the case of Mary, as the wife of Joseph, she had to return to her husband’s town. Being heavily pregnant at the time, Mary made the journey on a donkey or mule. They arrive at Bethlehem to find nowhere to stay. All that was available was a small stable, which would provide nothing more than shelter. It was here that Mary gave birth, placing her child in a manger. The child was named Yeshua (ישוע), which later became Jesus as the story was translated into other languages.
At this time, an angel appeared to shepherds on a nearby hill and announced the birth. Elsewhere, a star is noted as having guided the three Magi (or Wise men) to Bethlehem. These wise men arrive 12 days after Christmas, bringing gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to the child. However when Herod, king of Judea, hears of the birth of a new messiah, he orders all new-born males to be killed. Thus Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt with their child.
These scenes have persisted in religious iconography throughout history and have been used within the Christian world as a sign of authority and piety. Although aspects of the story of the Nativity have been depicted in a variety of different ways, standards were developed to make the scenes easily recognisable. Medieval seal matrices often depicted scenes from the Nativity and would have most likely belonged to senior officials at monasteries or churches. Many examples have been recorded on the PAS database showing how these standards of depicting specific scenes developed throughout the Medieval period. Most common are the Virgin Mary and Child designs (WILT-5F2594), with around 54 examples recorded with the PAS alone. Less common scenes include the Star in the sky that guided the three wise men to Bethlehem (SWYOR-457EF7) and the flight to Egypt ( IHS-5084E2).
During the Medieval period life was governed by the Church and Bible. Everything you did during your earthly life would impact your soul after death and decide if you went to heaven or hell and how long you would spend in purgatory. A part of this highly religious life was the idea of pilgrimage, a journey to a holy place or shrine to ask for the Saints help or as a form of penance for sins. Undertaking a pilgrimage could help your soul in the afterlife. When visiting these holy places, relics and reliquaries could be purchased as proof that you had completed the pilgrimage and it was believed that relics were still connected to the Saint and had supernatural powers. Relics usually came in the form of a piece of the Saint, such as a body part, or something that the Saint had touched. Many were kept in reliquaries, a container for the relics, often decorated with scenes from the life of the saint in question.
One such reliquary is recorded on the PAS database (ESS-2C4836). This gold reliquary is in the form of a lozenge shaped pendant with a removable back panel. The front and back panels are engraved with biblical images. One of the side panels is engraved with a foliate design, with the other three depicting the names most commonly given to the three wise men in the nativity: Gaspar, Melcior, Baltasar (Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar). The three wise men are mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew where he calls them ‘Magi’ and states that they bought with them the gifts of gold, frankincenseandmyrrh. This has given rise to the idea that there were only three Magi, one for each gift, although the total number is never mentioned. It is thought that the three gifts have symbolic meanings, although never mentioned in the Bible. Gold is seen as a symbol of Christ’s divinity, frankincense is burnt in worship and therefore indicative of Christ’s willingness to become a sacrifice and myrrh was used in embalming and foretells the suffering he would go through as a man.
The reliquary is currently on display in room 2 at the British Museum.
In modern day Western society Father Christmas is instantly recognisable, by his red and white clothes, white beard and sleigh full of presents. He is an image of Christmas spirit, goodwill to all men and for children a magical man who gives them gifts. How did this version of Santa Claus develop from the much more pious Saint Nicholas?
The origins of the real Saint Nicholas, on which the modern day Santa Claus is based, was discussed yesterday. Within the Christian World Saint Nicolas’ popularity had grown and his story merged with local myth. The earliest reference in England comes from the fifteenth century, when a carol entitled “Sir Christëmas” appears, often credited to Rev. Richard Smart, Rector of Plymtree, Devon (AD 1435-1477) and again with Ben Johnson’s seventeenth-century “Captaine Christmas”, although the early English version of Santa Claus was a Yule-tide visitor, not a gift-giver. The modern Father Christmas became popular in the Victorian era.
One of the most famous versions is the Dutch Sinterklaas, an elderly and serious man with white hair and beard. He wears a long red cape, rides a white horse and carries a book that lists whether each child has been good or bad and gives gifts on the 5th December, the night before Saint Nicholas’ day.
The Americans gave us the image of the jolly man in a red suit. Washington Irving adapted the Sinterklaas legend and between AD 1804 and 1821, Santa Claus becomes an elf dressed in fur in an arctic landscape. This version gained popularity with many familiar aspects being added during AD1863-1886. Thomas Nast drew illustrations of Santa Claus where he is portrayed as a fat, white bearded elf, wearing a spotted red-brown suit with the base of the jacket trimmed in white fur. In 1885, Louis Prang added the black boots and belt, a bright red suit trimmed with white fur and a white tassel hat. By the 1920’s the red suit became standardized and is thought to be based on the red robes that Bishops wore and not based on Coca Cola’s colours, a popular misconception.
Recorded on the PAS database is a modern lead Santa Claus (NLM-CA8AE8) wearing a rode and hat which are both fur-trimmed, with a beard and moustache. In the crook of his left arm is a small Christmas tree. This ornament highlights how the modern version of Santa Claus has become, for many, an important figure in the celebration of Christmas.
The jolly man in the red and white who brings children presents every Christmas Eve in his sleigh pulled by reindeer is the result of hundreds of years of stories, legends, tradition and marketing campaigns. The ‘real’ Father Christmas hasn’t been completely forgotten, with popular culture even referring to him as ‘Saint Nic’.
Saint Nicholas was born in Patara (now in modern day Turkey) during the third century BC. He came from a wealthy family and was raised as a Christian. After the death of his parents, he used his inheritance to help those suffering and was made Bishop of Myra at a young age. Saint Nicholas became known for his generosity to the sick, his love for children and his concern for sailors, thus becoming the Patron Saint of children and sailor, as well as merchants, archers and students. During the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Nicholas was exiled for his faith and imprisoned. Nicholas died on 6th December AD343, giving rise to the celebration of this date as Saint Nicholas Day.
Saint Nicholas popularity grew due to the stories told of his great deeds and soon his cult rivalled that of Virgin Marys’. One of the most well-known stories is Saint Nicholas and the three daughters. Each of the daughters wanted to marry but hadn’t enough dowry. Saint Nicholas threw two purses through the window and the third down the chimney where it fell into a hanging stocking.
Another story of Saint Nicholas’ miracles is a later addition and based on a misunderstanding. In many images Saint Nicholas is pictured with gold discs or balls but many thought they were children’s heads. This gave rise to the story that three boys had been tricked and killed by an innkeeper (butcher in the French version) and placed in a barrel. Saint Nicholas visits the inn, dreams of the crime and resurrects the boys. This story is a retelling of a much earlier tale, recorded by Cicero in his “on divination” in 44BC. Cicero’s version also includes a murderous innkeeper, though the victim is a friend of the protagonist.
These stories are a few examples of his good deeds but gave rise to the idea that Saint Nicolas was mainly a protector of children and gift giver. His story grew and Saint Nicholas was incorporated into other local myths. A pilgrim badge recorded on the PAS database (SF8047) depicts Saint Nicholas with three children sitting in a crescent moon, possibly a representation of the barrel, although the badge could also relate to the three daughters story. Tomorrow will continue the story of Saint Nicholas and how the Saint turned into the myth we know today.
It has to be remembered that Christmas is not only about the children who are rewarded for being nice. Many countries have stories to encourage all children to be well behaved in the build up to Christmas. In some countries they are told that they will receive something instead of presents, such as coal, or even worse they won’t receive any presents at all. In many parts of the world, the figure of father Christmas has an opposite who deals out punishment to those who misbehave. In France there is La Pere Fouettard and in Iceland is the Yuletide cat, but a story originating in the Alpine regions of Central Europe has become increasingly popular worldwide in recent years through TV and film. In the German speaking regions of the Alps, on the night before the feast of St Nicholas (6th December), it is said that Krampus pays a visit to all the naughty children of the world.
Krampus’ appearance draws heavily on early Christian representations of the devil; covered in fur, two large horns and hooves instead of feet. This mount recorded on the PAS datbase (NARC-2E4314) shows the sort of image that comes to mind when thinking of Krampus. It comes from a toy or vessel, though it is unlikely that it was associated with the folklore of Krampus. In many religions, winter is seen as a time when evil spirits are most active. Many festivals that are celebrated at this time of year involve light, which often originated in a desire to keep away evil spirits. These traditions have since developed into the practices observed today. This can include lighting candles (Hanukkah and Advent) or letting off fireworks (Diwali).
According to the legend of Krampus, children who have been naughty are kidnapped and beaten with ruten (bundles of birch branches). In some towns festivals are held where young adults dress up as Krampus and race through the streets, no doubt fueled by Glühwein, scaring children and adults alike. In recent years this aspect of the festive season has become more and more popular in the United States, with a recent boom in its home country of Austria as well (Basu and Little, 2014). Whether as a means to relieve the stress associated with this time of year or simply as an excuse to scare children, more and more people are choosing to dress up as this Christmas devil.
Reference: Basu, T and Little, B. 2014. Krampus the Christmas Devil Is Coming to More Towns. So Where’s He From? National Geographic online: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/12/141222-krampus-christmas-devil-demon-krampusnacht/[Last viewed: 08/12/2015].
A popular song at this time of year is “The twelve days of Christmas”. The song was first recorded in English in AD1780 in a book entitled “mirth without mischief”, which was aimed at children as a sort of memory game. The twelve days relate to the days after Christmas day, leading up to Epiphany on the 6th January. This is the day on which it is believed the three Magi arrived to greet the new-born baby Jesus. It would often be sung as a game of forfeits, with a new item being added with each child that sings. If a child forgot one of the objects in the series, they would have to do a forfeit..
The meaning of the gifts within the song has caused some debate. The five gold rings were often assumed to be rings worn on the finger as seen in illustrations from that era (see right). However, an alternative was suggested by William Stuart Baring-Gould (1962, 197) who believed it referred to five “ringed pheasants”, as all other gifts up until that point had been birds. Several of the other items appear to have changed throughout history, yet golden finger-rings seem to have persisted. probably because the desire for gold jewellery far outweighed the desire for game birds.
The five gold rings below (PAS-833958) are dated to the Late Bronze Age (1150-750BC). They are all of a similar shape, though they vary in size and style. The larger two are believed to be neck rings, whilst the smaller examples are likely to be bracelets. They were found within a ceramic vessel, suggesting the objects had been deposited intentionally. Much like the rings in the song, these five gold rings were possibly given as a gift to the Gods (though not necessarily on the 5th day of Christmas). There is a lot of debate about why objects were intentionally buried in the past, with each explanation being as likely as the next. As more and more hoards are being uncovered and making their way into museum collections, we are learning a great deal about these fascinating practices in the past.
These objects fell under the Treasure Act 1996 and have subsequently been acquired by the British Museum. The British Museum currently has an exhibition on Prehistoric and Roman hoards in room 69a.
Reference: Baring-Gould, W. S. and Baring-Gould, C. 1962. The Annotated Mother Goose. New York: Bramhall House.
A popular image associated with Christmas today is the Christmas tree. Believed to have derived from a pre-Christian practice of bringing evergreen boughs indoors during the winter season as a symbol of everlasting life, the tree has become a staple of most Western households at Christmas. Prince Albert has been credited with introducing Christmas tree’s to Britain during the mid-19th century, but this is a common misconception. Prince Albert popularized the Christmas tree but it was already a common feature of the royal household at Christmas time before the Victorian era.
The custom originated in Germany and was introduced into England under the reign of George III. His wife, German born Queen Caroline, decorated a tree for her family in the 1790s, and there is record of a tree at a children’s party given by a member of Queen Caroline’s court in AD1821. This tradition stayed largely within the Royal family until the later 19th century. It became common to see decorated Christmas trees in public spaces, until Post war anti-German feeling reduced their popularity for a short while. It wasn’t until the 1920s that family trees in each household became a common sight.
The German practice originally had wax candles burning on the tree (definitely a fire hazard by today’s standards) which was soon replaced by lightbulbs after electricity became more widespread. Nowadays trees are decorated with a wide array of objects to make them even more festive. The trees themselves rapidly became a symbol used to identify the Christmas period and can be seen on many visual representations of the season. The object pictured (SF7562) was not originally intended to represent a Christmas tree, though the green colouration brought on by oxidation makes it seem much more festive. It would have originally been a bright golden colour and would have decorated a leather strap in the 16th century.
The idea of boy bishops was a tradition that was popular in Western Europe during the medieval period but reached its height during the 16th century, continuing in some places until the 19th century. The custom of the Boy Bishop originated from Saint Nicholas due to his appointed as the Bishop of Myra at a young age.
The act of choosing a Boy Bishop would commence on Saint Nicholas’ Day, 6th December. A choir boy would be chosen to take over the role of bishop until the Holy Innocents Day, 28th December. The boy chosen as acting Bishop would be dressed in full episcopal regalia. He would lead processions, could declare holidays and give out sweets, gifts and tokens.
It is these lead tokens that have survived and with a numerous amount recorded on the database, suggests that it was a popular tradition. The lead tokens would have been handed out by the Boy Bishop and could be spent or exchanged, most likely for sweetmeats or alms.
The main place of manufacture for these tokens was in Bury St Edmunds, with the majority being found in Suffolk, although tokens have been found much further afield and there were other places of manufacture including Ipswich and possibly Ely.
The obverse usually depicts the head of Saint Nicholas or a Bishop’s mitre and often reads ‘SANCTE NICOLAE’ (Saint Nicholas) with the legend provoking prayers ORA PRO NOBIS (pray for us). The reverse is divided into quadrants by a long cross, with three pellets contained in each quadrant. The legend often reads ‘AVE REX GENTIS’ (Ave Rex Gentis [Anglorum] – behold King of the English people), a reference to an anthem sung to St. Edmund in Bury Abbey.