So what was it for?

This is the artifact which most closely resembles the Alfred Jewel – the Minster Lovell Jewel. It was discovered in Minster Lovell, near Oxford, some time before 1718. Both presumably had the same function. There is still no evidence of what that was, though most sources accept the most likely purpose was as a manuscript ‘pointer’ which helped a monk to keep his place while reading, instead of following it with a grubby finger (which might rub the ink off the surface of the non-porous vellum).

MLJ

It’s less elaborate than the Alfred Jewel but has the hollow stem with two holes to hold a rivet. On balance, I prefer the suggestion that it was a book mark, perhaps with a flat wooden strip rounded at the top to fit into the stem. Although there are lots of illustrations of monks reading, I haven’t found one that clearly shows a pointer being used. Why not, if this was quite usual? If it was just a bookmark, that wouldn’t lend itself to an illustration – just a book with a stick protruding from it.

Secondly, I rather like the idea of the bookmark having the ornamental top showing while the book was, say, closed on a desk. It would seem almost sacrilege to clutch such a beautiful object in your fist, thus hiding it completely. The other end would be the useful end which was looked at, whereas for a bookmark it would be the jewelled top on display.

Thirdly, if such pointers were in common use, Alfred surely wouldn’t have needed to send one out with each copy? The bishops would probably have plenty already. And why such a costly one? A gold and gem-encrusted binding would seem more appropriate, if he wanted to add value to the gift.

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