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Various have been the conjectures with regard to the figure on the obverse. Dr Hickes, in his Thesaurus, [vol. i, p. 144.] expresses his doubt whether the figure may have been intended to represent Jesus Christ, or St Cuthbert, who was a patron of king Alfred, and is said in an old legend to have assisted him in his distress. But the author of the History of St Neot's tells us, that it was St Neot; because, as has been already remarked, he was the relative and the spiritual counseller of the king, and was venerated by Alfred above all other saints. On this subject Dr Silver observes, "I thought formerly, that the figure in the Gem was a type of Alfred's office as king; but I am now convinced, that the figure itself is that of Jesus Christ, notwithstanding that it is clothed in the military vest of the Saxons; for it was the custom of those times to draw characters in their own dresses. The position of the image is founded on a passage in the 45th Psalm, verse 3, and which is still retained in the present Coronation Service; where the bishop says, 'Remember of whom it is said, Gird thyself with thy sword upon thy thigh, O thou most Mighty.'
"This is therefore our Saviour, the belt of the sword being seen surmounted with fleurs de lis. Our Saviour, as the Melchizedec, carries the double sceptre, one on each shoulder, the long sceptre representing the invisible Church in heaven, the shorter that on earth; both are surmounted with fleur de lis, or lilies, and both sceptres meet at a given point. Alfred was the first sovereign who was crowned with the tithe inherent in it, as attached to the order of Melchizedec. As the Anglo-Saxon kings and also the Normans considered themselves as the Gospelia or messengers of Christ, or the Vicarii Christi in terra, Alfred, under these
(5) Hickes at first suggested that it was a figure of our Saviour, the lily-sceptre in each hand denoting his double reign, in heaven and in earth: Musgrave ultimately adopted the same opinion. Hickes thought it, however, not improbable that it might be intended for the pope; but at last he concluded that it represents some saint; he was led to this opinion from the inscription of a miniature of St Luke, in an ancient MS. of the Gospels, drawn in a nearly similar manner, holding a flowery cross in each hand, [Ling. Vett. Septent. Thesaur. tom. i. p. viii. fig. 5.] Wise conceived that it depicted king Alfred himself, on account of the helmet and military vest, in which (as he supposed) the figure is represented.
(6) See also Musgrave, Phil. Trans. p. 247. Gesta Brit. 1716, and Wise's Asser, Vita Alf.
(7) See SIMEON in page 71 of the present work.
(8) “Rex Alfredus, sanctorum pedibus acclivis et subditus, S. NEOTUM in summa veneratione habebat." Ingulphi Hist. Croyl. (Fulman, Script. p. 27.)
impressions of his state, ordered this image of our Saviour to be made and he wore it round his neck; from which probably it dropped.
"Connecting this picture of Christ as the Melchizedec, the tithe of the King as the Vicarius Christi in terra, the ancient Coronation Service of the Anglo-Saxon kings, the laws of Alfred and his reference in them to the apostolic council of Jerusalem, we may collect from the circumstances that Alfred considered that the tithe had been granted by himself, the State, and the landholders, to the invisible Melchizedec in heaven, and that the Crown power was the great trustee of the rights which all parties held on them."
Notwithstanding these observations, and the weight which must always attach to the opinion of persons so well versed in AngloSaxon Literature, the opinion which Dr Silver first promulgated, that the figure was an image of the king himself, and symbolical of the king's office, seems quite as tenable as the other. According to this view the two sceptres would aptly designate the spiritual and temporal authorities, which were united in the king's hands.
Sir Francis Palgrave, in a letter to a friend at Oxford, describes the jewel in the following words:
"Alfred's jewel, in the mechanical workmanship of the metallic portion, offers a close resemblance to the Icelandic ornaments, now made in the island, where the mode has probably continued by usage from the most remote periods. The enamel within, on the other hand, resembles some ornaments of the Carlovingian era now existing on the continent, which have been generally considered as oriental. The head at the extremity of the ornament, is extremely like what is found in those architectural ornaments usually called Saxon, e. g. the porch of St Margaret's at York. Whether St Neot be the personage represented in the enamel, I rather doubt, and I think it possible that the enamel itself was brought from the continent, and that the setting only was made in England. This would reconcile the two styles of workmanship: the metallic portion is unquestionably Anglo-Saxon, the enamel may be supposed to be from another country. But altogether it is one of the most curious relics of the kind-and no one, taking all the points of evidence together, can reasonably doubt but that it did belong to king Alfred."
The whole of this enquiry rests on too slender data to enable us to form any very decided opinion as to the symbolical character of the relic-for it is a mere matter of conjecture as to its having a symbolical character at all. As a specimen however of gold working of the ninth century the gem is an object of much interest, independently of its connection with our great and glorious king, and suggests many questions concerning the art of the goldsmith, as it was practised by our forefathers a thousand years
Although this subject labours under great obscurity from the want of historical notices, yet a few passages are found in our old chroniclers and other writers which help us to form some definite ideas.
In the first place, it is conjectured that jewels in gold and silver were not only wrought with great elegance, but formed an article of contraband trade among the English even earlier than the reign of king Alfred. This inference seems justly to flow from a letter of Charlemagne to Offa king of Mercia, which, as Offa died in 795, must be referred to a date at least not later than that year. In this letter we find the following passage: "Concerning the strangers, who, for the love of God, and the salvation of their souls, wish to repair to the thresholds of the blessed apostles [i. e. to go on pilgrimage to Rome,] let them travel in peace without any trouble; nevertheless, if any are found among them not in the service of religion, but in the pursuit of gain, let them pay the established duties at the proper places." As such pilgrims could not very well conceal about their persons merchandise of a more bulky kind, it is thought that trinkets of the precious metals and stones of different sorts, were the articles which these pilgrims tried to smuggle. Moreover, if this be correct, such trinkets must have been wrought in England, and it even appears that the English jewellers, at this early period, were well known over all Europe.' We find among the Canons of Egbert archbishop of York, written about A. D. 750, a prohibition to Christians against imitating the manners of the Jews or partaking of their feasts; which seems to prove that Jews were settled in the north of England so early as the middle of the eighth century: and we know that the Jews, wherever they have attained a footing, have carried with (1) Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, i, 248.
them the trade in jewellery, gold and silver ornaments, and other such luxuries, because they have been excluded by the laws from almost every other occupation.
King Alfred kept up, in the latter part of his life, a yearly communication with Rome; and, as we learn from Asser, he corresponded with Abel, patriarch of Jerusalem, who sent him several valuable oriental commodities. His embassy to the Christians in India is mentioned, not only by Malmesbury and other authorities of the next age, but by the contemporary compiler of the Saxon Chronicle, who says that bishop Swithelm made his way to St Thomas and returned in safety. Malmesbury gives Sighelm as the name of the adventurous bishop of Sherborne, and relates that he brought back from India aromatic liquors and splendid jewels; some of the latter, Malmesbury says, were still remaining in the treasury of his church when he wrote in the twelfth century. Sighelm is stated to have left England in the year 883, and to have gone in the first instance to Rome, from which he probably sailed up the Mediterranean to Alexandria, and then made his way by Bassora to the Malabar coast, where it is certain that a colony of Syrian Christians who regarded St Thomas as their apostle, were settled from a very early period. Asser relates that he received on one occasion as a present from Alfred a robe of silk and as much incense as a strong man could carry these precious commodities must have been obtained from the East." Macpherson, in his Annals of Commerce, thinks it also not impossible that mines of the precious metals may have been wrought at this time in England, and part of the produce exported, although the existence of such mines in the island is unnoticed by any historian since the beginning of the Roman dominion, with the exception of Bede. It is certain that large sums in gold and silver were raised in the country on different occasions, and much coin or bullion repeatedly carried out of it; and it appears difficult to comprehend whence all this wealth could be obtained with so few manufactures and so little exportable produce of any kind. The early eminence of the Anglo-Saxons in the art of working gold and silver may be taken as another presumption that, whencesoever procured, there was no want of these metals in the island. We have undoubted proof,' says Mr Macpherson, that the English jewellers and workers of gold and (2) Pictorial History of England, vol. i, p. 266.
silver were eminent in their professions, and that probably as early as the beginning of the seventh century. . . . So great was the demand for highly-finished trinkets of gold and silver, that the most capital artists of Germany resorted to England; and moreover, the most precious specimens of foreign workmanship were imported by the merchants.' On the other hand, articles in gold and silver seem to have been the chief description of manufactured goods exported from England in this period."
(3) Macpherson, i, 290.
(4) Pict. Hist. of England, i, 269.