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The Golden Cup
It is truly beautiful and the man who found it is convinced that there is a very important person buried there as they have now proved that one of the largest barrows in England was on this site. But even more beautiful was the amber cup that was found at Hove, compared to the eveness of the gold this one had a truly magical look about it and was said to give off sparks.
I wrote this piece when the golden one was first discovered.
Last week, like many weeks before in the twenty or so years that I have lived in this area, we drove past a field. Well, that's not very exciting is it?
But this ordinary, windswept field, about five miles from my home, has been the keeper for maybe 3700 years of a wonderful piece of treasure that was recently unearthed by a local man using his metal detector there.
I must have looked at this field thousands of times and apart from a few odd "bumps", which have now been found to be barrows dating back to the Mesolithic and late Neolithic periods, it looked just like any other field.
Just yards from my touch and inches from my sight, lay a magnificent gold cup. Just a foot and a half beneath the surface of a barrow, which archaeologists say is where people had lived since at least 5000 BC, it was beaten from a solid piece of the earliest gold ever found in Britain.
When Cliff Bradshaw, the lucky man who had the thrill of discovering it, contacted the regional Archaeological Trust they didn't believe him. It was not until he sent them a photograph of the cup that they did.
There is much speculation as to whom the cup belonged to and what it was used for. Some think that it has a connection to the Holy Grail of Arthurian legend whilst others believe that an important local priest may have used it in his Shamanic rituals.
It is a beautifully crafted cup from which to sip a hallucinatory drink, which would probably have been of an opium-derived mixture combined with mead. This would have been consumed to allow him to see the spirits or deities of the other world. This is seen in more modern religious terms, to be in communion with the divine and it is interesting to note that the shape of the chalice has changed little today.
Standing about four inches in height the Kent cup has a curved base, broad handles and is beautifully embossed. Although a little battered by the hoes, spades and forks that must have touched and bent it throughout its many years of lying there, it will soon be restored to its original glory. We can be sure that this one, unlike the previous one, which was found in Cornwall in 1837, will not be used to hold collar studs as King George V did.
Penny Little 2003
My hometown of Dover, just 21 miles from the French coast, looks, to the casual observer, much like any other small town here in England. But, the usual array of busy shops in the main street conceals a marvelous discovery that has lain buried by time since AD 270.
In 1970 a routine archaeological rescue assignment began ahead of re-development and there, behind the Bingo hall and the beauty parlor, laid a wonderful discovery that is to me, a source of intrigue and fascination.
Hidden many feet below the rubble of demolition was something that has been named as Britain’s Buried Pompeii.
Knocked down and buried by the Roman army during the construction of a larger fort at that particular place, three of its main rooms were found to be substantially intact under the fort’s ramparts. Standing outside of the great naval fort of the Classis Britannica the building was erected around AD 200.
It formed part of a large mansion or official hotel for travelers crossing the channel to France or to refresh themselves on their journey home.
The unique survival of over 400 sq.ft. of painted plaster is the most extensive ever found north of the Alps.
The floors and the remaining parts of the walls of the six rooms were found and the colors of the wall decorations, in their soft shades of reds and greens, are truly a joy to gaze upon.
Parts of twenty-eight painted panels, complete with trompe-loiel effect fluted columns can be seen so clearly, each with a motif relating to Bacchus, the Roman God of wine.
My personal favorite is a be-ribboned wand (Thyrsus), elegant and feminine and a small hint to the good times that must certainly have been enjoyed there.
In four of the rooms, where the walls have survived to a height of between four and six feet, the hard red concrete floors cover a complete central-heating system, with large arched flues, the various heating channels and the upright wall flues that would have kept the building comfortably warm 1800 years ago.
To look at the meticulously laid bricks and to ponder on the last time that they moved, whilst being put into place by the craftsman is a very special thing.
Of course other treasures were found as the site was excavated and coins, stamped tiles, cooking pots and pottery remains, give us an idea of the lives of the people who enjoyed the hospitality of this Roman Official Hotel.
In sumptuous surroundings and fortified by good wine and fine food they would have whiled away the hours between journeys and business.
One of the most evocative sights is that of the drinking vessels and I wonder whose lips last rested on the rim, as the wine was drunk and the women kissed. What were his thoughts, his hopes, and his dreams for himself and his country?
And sometimes, on a cold, wet day when visitors are scarce, I can stand there, in the middle of a room, close my eyes and feel from those delicately painted walls, some of the energy that has remained there, trapped in time like a tape recording and ready to reveal itself to anyone who can open themselves to it.
A look at the life of a Saxon lady
Last time, I told of the discovery of a Saxon lady who was buried,near to where I live, with her crystal ball. 140 years before her death,the ancestors of the lady with the crystal ball,the Jutes,believed to have come from Denmark,and the Frisians,from the coast of the Netherlands had arrived in England.
As the Roman armies were withdrawn from Britain early in the 5th century, these new settlers were,effectively,their own masters,doing little to keep alive the legacy of the Romans. Their language was their own and they replaced the stone buildings with those made of wood.
She was pagan, and whilst her religion would have had similarities with the pre-Roman Celtic beliefs as well as the Scandinavian ones,the supreme deities of her faith were probably goddesses and not gods.
Nerthus, the earth mother,would have been the most important,it was she who looked after the well being of man and beast,Frija, with her associations of love and friendship, Eostre, the goddess of dawn, spring and new lifeand Rheda the goddess of winter were amongst the others worshipped.
Of the gods,Woden,the lord of magic and leader of the Wild Hunt was the most important.
And so, a look at her possessions. The brooches, found with her,reveal to us that she was not of the poorer class, for these were used to clasp her woven woolen gown at the shoulders, whereas those not so wealthy would have had to stitch the garment together. The weaving batten, with the gold braid may have been a project she was working on, a new braid to keep her veil in place as she worshipped her goddesses. Buckled belts, with personal items hanging from them ,keys, knives, amulets and pouches,and an abundance of jewelry were a common trend in this area of England. Sometimes a pair of brooches would be used to pin a robe open, to show the undergarment and from one of these would hang a silver caged crystal ball, often with a perforated silver spoon. Although we do not know precisely what these items were used for, we can be fairly certain that they were for ritual use.
But there will be no physical evidence of the temple or shrine she worshipped at, as these were not buildings but sacred places, a grove or a pool,for everywhere in England there are places bearing the names of the old gods. And in the words of Tacitus we see how they perceived them……” They judge that gods cannot be contained inside walls nor can the greatness of the heavenly ones be represented in the likeness of any human face: they consecrate groves and woodland glades and call by the name of ‘gods’ that mystery which they only perceive by their sense of reverence.”
The Saxon Lady and Her Crystal Ball
Something that I wrote and felt an affinity to
You could be forgiven for dismissing the attractive little village, near where I live in England, as being just one of many around here, with it's 16th Century cottages still standing and the church of St. Mary with it's columns dating back to 1180.
But if we delve a little deeper, back to pre-Christian times, we will discover the true origin of this village named Woodnesborough.
From the excavation and discovery of spearheads and Roman glass vessels during the 18th and 19th Centuries, which, incidentally, the local ladies at that time used as "sugar basins" and "glasses" from which to drink ale, at the Harvest Home festival, to the revelation of the earthwork known as the "heathen mound".
And it is here that the connection is made between the mound, latterly known as Woden's Hill, and the village's name. For that mound is, indeed, the site of the Jutish pagan temple of Winzbru, where the god Woden was worshipped and in whose honour the parish was designated. There is a golden statue, said to be buried in the field of the nearby village of Ash, which was reputed to have been taken from the shrine for safekeeping when the Christians persecuted the pagans.
Another early Saxon worship connection can be made from the name of the main street that runs through the village, although considered to be a paved way of the Romans, it's name "Cold Friday Street", comes originally from the goddess Friga.
Although the name of the village has changed many times over centuries, it's villagers still today, have a hoodening festival, where Morris dancers parade a wooden horse's head through the village, a tradition dating from pre- Christian worship of Woden.
I often wonder, especially as the quaint parish church is built on top of that old pagan shrine, if the Old Gods have a wry smile of their faces as they consider who's worshipping who.
A little further along this Kentish road, lies another unassuming village, that of Sarre, and looking to all the world, so typical of many around this district, with it's mix of Georgian, Edwardian, Victorian and modern dwelling places. Yet here too has been revealed a wonderful secret past.
When the Jutes, who were part of three very powerful Germanic tribes, along with the Saxons and Angles, settled in this small place on the river's edge,they were not, as once believed to be, ignorant, isolated smallholders but people of great artistic skills. There were, perhaps, 25,000 of them in the country, living in small groups of about 50 people, abiding where the land was easiest to work.
The men, like the Celtic tribes before the long Roman occupation, were warriors and hunters and farmed the land simply, whilst the women wove and spun.
Beautiful finds have been discovered at the burial sites of these people, and here lies, under the soil, the evidence of the days when burials were carried out under different conditions than those which prevail today.
With the bodies were buried ornaments, vessels of fine glass and other materials, crystals, weapons, implements, and a host of various articles, each of which was applicable to the station in life of the man, woman or child.
But one lady buried there is special to my heart, she would have been of some status, and with her were her possessions, her beads of amber, amethyst and glass, her golden brooch with the sun's radiating rays set with garnets and the batten she used for weaving gold thread.
Whilst these objects are quite often found in this part of the country, this lady also had buried with her, what surely must have been a most treasured possession,her crystal ball set in a silver mount.
We can only imagine, with intrigue and wonder, at the visions of the future she may have seen in this beautiful object all those many moons ago.
Martyr's Field in Kent
On a wet and windy morning, in the depths of winter's cold, I decided it was time to find and see for myself the sad and sorry tribute to the Canterbury Martyrs. This was not going to be an outing to look forward to, more a pilgrimage of respect for those forty two "good and godly" people who were burned there at the stake for their beliefs.
During the reign of Queen Mary, a person's religious convictions were counted as more worth than life itself and toward the close of this reign, the Archbishop, Cardinal Pole, set forth certain articles of enquiry to be made, of both lay-people and the clergy, at a visitation throughout the diocese of Canterbury. Any person who was suspected of having Protestant opinions came under his fearful scrutiny, schoolmaster, priest, the tavern-keeper, the poor, the sick and unlearned women and children , all risked the same fate if these suspicions were thought to be proved. Even a careless song from a minstrel's lips could be construed as heresy. As a result, six men and women were burned for heresy in the Martyr's Hollow in January 1557 and seven more, most of them peasants from the surrounding countryside, in June 1558. In all a total of forty two suffered this fate before the end came.
However, all did not survive to reach the stake, many died of hunger while they were imprisoned at the castle. A preserved letter, thrown out by the prisoners hoping to that it would catch the eye of a passer-by, tells how they were kept in cold irons and that their keepers denied them any meat to comfort them. It also told that anyone who did bring them bread, butter or cheese would have to pay money to the guards. The end of the letter ask that they might not be famished for the Lord Jesus's sake.
These were all people who lived in and about the villages that surround my own. One heroine, Alice Bendon, practised living on two and a halfpence a day, to try to see how well she could sustain hunger before being actually put to it, as she knew that when she was put in the Archbishop's prison her allowance would be a half pennyworth of bread and a farthing drink and her lodging a bit of straw between the stocks and a stone wall.
And so to the monument itself, it stands in a place now called the Martyr's Field, but bears little resemblence to a field, rows of houses surround the grassy area that looks like a small park, yet the remembrance of what eyes have seen there haunts it still. The names of those so cruelly murdered are chisled in the stone cross, the grass is clipped and tidy, the flower beds weeded and seating is provided. But who would want to dwell too long on this site of sorrow, where the earth and the air surrounding have witnessed the cries and screams of those burnings?
They do not bring the tourists here and it's not in many guide books. The modern pilgrim to Canterbury heads straight to the Cathedral with all it's pomp and splendour, perhaps unaware of the cruelty inflicted upon some of the people from the past who's eyes had also gazed at it's magnificance.
The memorial is not a place that I would wish to return to, but I will, for in my haste to beat the cold, spikey wind that accompanied me to it, I forgot to take some flowers to lay there