Alfred Jewel 'comes home' to Somerset after 300 years

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Media captionThe Alfred Jewel is thought to be over 1,000 years old

A priceless piece of jewellery linked to Alfred the Great is returning to Somerset for the first time in nearly 300 years.

The Alfred Jewel, which is believed to be more than 1,000 years old, was found in the county in 1693.

It is owned by Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, but is being loaned to the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.

The museum's director said it was "thrilling to think it's back near its homeland... albeit for a brief time."

Dr Alexander Sturgis added: "It's both very exciting and very mysterious. It begs all kinds of questions of where the materials came from.

"It's thought the rock crystal probably came from Rome, the enamel was probably made by foreign craftsmen in this country and the gold would have come from Europe and so on."

The identity of the figure depicted on the 9th Century artefact is unclear, but it is thought it could be Jesus Christ or Alfred the Great.

The Jewel was found in a peat bog in North Petherton, about eight miles from where King Alfred founded a monastery at Athelney.

The Museum of Somerset currently has a replica of the Jewel on display,

'Very exciting'

"Arguably it is one of the most exciting finds in this country," added Dr Sturgis. "And what is so exciting about it is that it is the only object that links directly back to the only king of England who has Great against his name."

The function of the Jewel is unclear, but the most persuasive argument is that it was a little pointer to use for reading or translating a manuscript, said Dr Sturgis.

Image copyright Ashmolean Museum
Image caption The Alfred Jewel was found in North Petherton, Somerset in 1693

"If that was true, it ties back to one of Alfred's great achievements as the King of Wessex which was to promote literacy and to translate works.

"It's been argued that it's one of many sent out by Alfred to the churches and monasteries and England... maybe it was sent out to the monastery that Alfred founded."

Tom Mayberry, chief executive of the South West Heritage Trust, said, "The Alfred Jewel is a unique and compelling object which goes to the heart of West Country history. It left Somerset in 1718 and has never returned, so this is a very special occasion."

The Jewel will go on display at the museum from 31 January to 28 February.

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