Save the Willingale Treasure!

Epping Forest District Museum (EFDM) is launching an appeal to save a medieval gold ring found in the parish of Willingale before the item goes on sale on the open market. It is the first medieval gem set ring to be found in the district, and the first known finger-ring to be discovered in the parish of Willingale. The decoration is of an extremely high standard and, to the best of our knowledge, unique. In total £11,500 is needed to save the ring and buy a display case for the community ensuring it is on free public display for generations to come. The campaign has already received support from the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and SHARE Museums East and EFDM has committed funding from its reserves leaving £3000 to be raised. If the target’s reached the ring will go on public display in the museum’s newly renovated core gallery saving it for current and future residents to enjoy. If the funding is not raised, the ring may be sold on the open market and possibly leave the UK permanently.
Why it’s a great idea:
Recently unearthed by a metal detectorist the ring is thought to date from c.1200-1399 and would have been worn by a wealthy medieval nobleman. It is a fine and very well preserved example of a medieval sapphire set finger ring; the maker is unknown however the craftsmanship demonstrates great skill and technical ability. It is the first ring of its type to be found within the district, the decoration is of extremely high standard and, to the best of our knowledge, unique. We are the only museum in the district that covers archaeology and social history and we also act as the archaeological depository for the area. Our remit is to tell the human history of the Epping Forest District. If successful in securing the ring we would not only ensure its long term preservation but also make it widely available to the public through free exhibitions, inclusion in our school education programme, public talks as well as the ring being made available for loan and research.

If you would like to know more about our campaign please get in touch with the team at the museum on museum@eppingforestdc.gov.uk or 01992 716882.

If you would like to make a donation towards our campaign either visit the Museum or donate online at https://www.spacehive.com/willingaletreasure

Thank you.

Collections in Focus: Medieval Gold Finger-ring from Abridge, Essex

Collections in Focus is a new series of blog posts where we will be sharing a selection of special items from our collection and giving you a bit more information about them too. The first focuses on a Medieval ring in the collection with engravings which have a link to the Easter story.

Medieval Gold Finger-ring from Abridge, Essex

By Jill Holmen, Collections Manager

We have several religious pieces in our medieval collection, including a number of finger—rings. This particular example is possibly the finest and most visually powerful of them.

It dates to around 1475-1525. It is cast from gold and the hoop comprises five circular bezels separated by oval beads with scale decoration. Each bezel is engraved and may have originally been enamelled.

The ten beads and bezels identify this as a ‘decade ring’, which would have been used in the same way as a rosary for personal prayer. The engraved symbols show the ‘Instruments of the Passion’, which were popular in medieval art, symbolising Christ’s suffering at the time of his execution. At around the time this ring was made, they feature in devotional books accompanying specific meditations on the events associated with each, adding an extra level of contemplation.

The following lists the symbols as I interpret them and outlines the element of the Easter story each represents (click on the images to see the full description):

The images on this ring might seem gruesome to our 21st century eyes, but relics had been venerated since the 4th Century, and a new wave brought back from the Crusades led to an increase in their use during this period. Many religious institutions owned Holy Relics, as did some pious individuals. Illustrations may well have served a similar purpose for those who were unable to acquire the ‘real thing’ and some scholars suggest that contemplation of the Passion was believed equivalent to a level of repentance.

Although we can never know who wore this ring, the precious metal and high-quality work imply that they were probably wealthy and of high social rank.

The finger-ring was found by a metal-detectorist, searching with the landowner’s permission, in Abridge in 2004 and was reported under the Treasure Act (1996). We purchased it with help from the Art Fund, the V&A/MLA Purchase Grant Fund and the Headley Museums Treasure Acquisition Scheme.

More information on the Treasure Act can be found on http://www.finds.org.uk