Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday 11 February 2024

A medieval gold talisman brooch from Norfolk

The BBC News website has an article about a thirteenth or fourteenth century gold brooch which was found by a detectorist in 2022 at the village of Cawston in north Norfolk. The village is described on Wikipedia at Cawston, Norfolk

The annular brooch has a pair of hands clasped in prayer hanging from a ring inscribed with letters in with some esoteric or caballistic meaning that is now, unfortunately, lost to us. Such magical formulae were popular and often mixed the mainstream of devotion with more parareligious concepts.

It seems a pity that no local museum wished to acquire such an intriguing and charming piece for its collection.

The illustrated report about the find and speculation about its cultural context can be seen at 'Magical' medieval gold brooch found by detectorist


Anonymous said...

My guess is that the inscriptions are acronyms of Norman French, and "VN" is short for "votre name" (or similar spelling), meaning "your name", as in "hallowed be thy name".


John (Ramsden)


Anonymous said...

P.S. DOH! I meant "votre nom" (It has been many years since I did O Level French!)

The hands clasped in prayer suggest the sayings are more likely to be devotional. So perhaps some enterprising person could find an online text of the Bible in French, the older the better, from the 1500s if possible, and search for what will doubtless be many occurrencs of "votre nom" e.g. "The Heavens proclaim your name", that kind of thing, and see if other letters in the acronym start adjacent words.

There is an outside chance the object may be a love token and the acronyms are phrases from some chanson d'amour such as something like "I sigh when I hear your name". Perhaps the lyrics of this song are recorded somewhere, but probably more likely they have been long forgotten, in which case there would be little chance of reconstructing the words.

John (Ramsden)

Once I was a Clever Boy said...

I am inclined to agree with you. The argument advanced in the report about the letters not being necessarily comprehensible was not one that overly impressed me. I could not come up quickly with a likely text(s) to expand them but the owner/ donor/ recipient probably did know what they signified and I would hazard it was more mainstream than otherwise.