British Museum blog

The Hockley Pendant: from an Essex field to the British Museum

The Hockley pendantNaomi Speakman and Lloyd de Beer,
curators, British Museum

A chance discovery in an Essex field by a four year-old boy has led to the latest addition to the British Museum’s medieval collection. Beautiful, both in its simplicity and elegance, the Hockley Pendant is a diamond-shaped reliquary dating from the beginning of the sixteenth century, and would have been worn by a wealthy individual as a discreet statement of piety.

The Hockley Pendant

The Hockley Pendant

As a result of the Treasure Act, and the reporting of finds through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, this is just one of many treasures acquired by museums across the country in the past year, so that such finds can be enjoyed by all.

The decoration on this piece reveals the dual nature of religious jewellery in the early sixteenth century, as a decoration and a holy amulet. The pendant is an excellent example of the intertwining of the secular and the religious in the Middle Ages. The front shows a sombre Saint Helena supporting the cross, while the back shows the Five Wounds of Christ, from his hands, feet and heart. Around the rim are inscribed the names of the Three Magi (or Wise Men): Casper, Melchior and Balthazar.

The pendant on its side, showing the inscription of the name Balthazar.

The pendant on its side, showing the inscription of the name Balthazar.

At just over three centimetres high, the pendant displays a stunning level of evocative detail. The cross shows flecked grains of wood and the Five Wounds of Christ weep blood shaped like tears, which rain down the pendant.

Originally the pendant would have looked slightly different, with the flowers, wounds and names of the Magi all filled with painted enamel. This interplay between gold and enamel was a particularly dramatic feature of late medieval metalwork, and gives us an indication of the high level of skill involved in creating such an intricate piece of jewellery.

The interior of the pendant is now empty, but it would once have held a relic, possibly of the True Cross, which was said to have been brought by St Helena to Constantinople from the Holy Land, and was thought to be the cross on which Christ was crucified.

This object allows us to better understand the enduring physical relationship between the living and the dead in the Middle Ages and the amazing depth and vibrancy of the material culture from this fascinating period in history.

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

The Hockley Pendant is now on display in Room 40: Medieval Europe

The acquisition of the Hockley Pendant was made possible through the generosity of the British Museum Friends and the Art Fund

Filed under: At the Museum, Collection, Portable Antiquities and Treasure

7 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. John M says:

    Stunning find! A 25mm (1 inch) gold pendant would hardly be considered a “discreet” show of piety, even by today’s standards. Thanks for posting!

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    • Tim says:

      The media in the U.S.A. has lead some to belive that the gold pendant one was owned by King Richard , and there for the high value in British Pounds. What would a such an object be valued at if it had once belonged to a former King of the England in the middle ages ?? same pendent ?

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      • @ Tim,
        Thank you for your comment about the Hockley Pendant. There is no evidence to suggest that this object was owned by royalty, and its size and decoration suggest that it was most likely owned by a member of the upper classes.
        Lloyd de Beer & Naomi Speakman, British Museum

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  2. Bill Armstrong says:

    The finder will be a metal detectorist for life after this!! Now that we have an excellent Reported Finds Scheme in place –together with advances in technology, means that we are doubtless going to unearth more fabulous treasures like this, and the Middleham Jewel was another example!
    Well Done
    Bill Armstrong

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  3. As a resident of the small village of Hockley its nice to finally have something that puts us on the map. I’m curious, as this found at the place known as “the mount”?

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    • Thanks for your comment Steve – such an amazing find doesn’t come around all that often so it’s great to be able to share it with as many people as possible. As far as the location of the find goes, in order to preserve the integrity of sites where archaeological discoveries are made, for possible further investigation and to deter trespassers, we do not publicly disclose the precise location.

      David Prudames, British Museum

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  4. acsilver says:

    What a fantastic find! (also some great comments above) I (like Steve) was hoping to know where the pendant was found, simply out of curiosity. However it makes complete sense why this can’t be divulged. Such religious jewellery pieces are certainly rare and this has such wonderful decoration to the pendant.

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One of many studies of female profiles in Redon's work, La Cellule d'Or ('The Golden Cell') suggests introspection, its golden glow embodying the power of thought. The intense colour and strict composition recall the portraits of the early Florentine Renaissance. Here however, the feeling dominates over objective representation; the blue and gold halo are the traditional colours of the Virgin Mary, but no further religious message intrudes.

The drawing is made on paper in oil paint over a white ground, which gives the colour its luminous intensity.
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Sculpture in antiquity was often adorned not only with colour but also with different materials. The Greek marble statue of an archer reconstructed here was drilled and fitted with metal attachments. The figure originally held a bronze bow and arrow and a quiver was fixed to his left hip by a metal dowel. Individual locks of hair were made of lead. The colourful design of the man’s knitted all-in-one garment, often worn by peoples from the east, is clearly seen weathered into the marble surface under controlled lighting.

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Plaster cast of archer with reconstructed paint, based on a Greek original of about 490–480 BC, from the Temple of Aphaia at Aigina. Staatliche Antikensammlung und Glyptothek, Munich.
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