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7th Century ‘Trumpington Cross’ gifted to Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

last modified Feb 01, 2018 05:35 AM
Extremely rare early Christian gold cross donated to University of Cambridge by Grosvenor Britain and Ireland.

A 1,300-year-old gold cross, found buried with the body of an aristocratic Anglo-Saxon teenager, is to go on display in Cambridge – just a few miles from where it was revealed to worldwide interest in 2012.

Trumpington Cross

Front and back views of the Trumpington Cross. Image credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit

The Trumpington Cross, made of gold and garnet, was found on the skeleton of a 14-18-year-old female laid to rest in an extremely rare ‘bed burial’ ceremony. Only a handful of Anglo-Saxon bed burials have ever been discovered in the UK – and the pectoral cross is only the fifth of its type found to date.

The 3.5cm diameter Trumpington Cross comes from one of the earliest Christian burials in Britain, probably dating between AD650-AD680. Because the earliest Anglo-Saxon converts to Christianity were from noble families, with its adoption filtering down through the social hierarchy, the teenager buried at Trumpington Meadows was undoubtedly of aristocratic or even royal status.

Although buried with treasured possessions including gold and garnet pins, an iron knife, glass beads and a chain which would have hung off her belt, it was the unexpected presence of the cross – which marks the teenage girl as an early convert to Christianity – which most excited Cambridge University archaeologists.

Thought to be worth in excess of £80,000, the cross has been generously gifted, under the 1996 Treasures Act, to Cambridge University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA). It has been donated by Grosvenor, the owners of the land upon which the Cambridge Archaeological Unit discovered the burial site in 2011.

Jody Joy, Senior Curator at the museum, said: “MAA has one of the best collections of Anglo-Saxon artefacts in the British Isles – and we are indebted to Grosvenor for their generosity in allowing this beautiful, mysterious artefact to remain in Cambridge. The Trumpington Cross and other material recovered from the dig are of international quality and significance – but with the strongest connections to Cambridge and the surrounding settlements.

“Taking pride of place in our galleries, the cross will allow us to tell the story of the coming of Christianity to the region and some of the history of this previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement – as well as the very early years of the English church after St Augustine was dispatched to England by the Pope in 597AD to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxon kings.”

Fashioned from gold and intricately set with cut garnets, the cross would have made a spectacular dress accessory. The gold and garnet construction was reserved for the highest levels of society posing the intriguing question about what position the teenage girl held in her settlement and the wider region.

Trumpington burial

The cross as discovered on the body of a female Anglo-Saxon teenager during the 2011 excavation. Image credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit

The cross and other grave goods from the very rare bed burial will be put on temporary display while a new bespoke display case is created to show off the cross to its full advantage. The Museum also hopes to host public lectures at which the context and significance of the cross will be explained.

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the importance of this magnificent and mysterious cross is recognised locally, nationally and internationally through research, exhibition and publication,” added Joy. “The Trumpington Cross offers unique insights into the origins of English Christianity and we feel very lucky to be able to put it on display at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology just a few, short miles away from where this beautiful artefact was discovered.”

Alex Robinson, Development Director, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, said: “We were delighted to donate the ‘Trumpington Cross’ to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Our long-standing commitment to Cambridge and our long-term investment in the growing neighbourhood of Trumpington Meadows demanded no less. The museum’s publicly-available exhibitions are an incredibly effective and moving confirmation of our shared past and our common interest in sustaining a lasting legacy.”  

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