What did Alfred say?

He said: “… ond to ælcum biscepstole on minum rice wille ane onsendan; & on ælcre bið an æstel, se bið on fiftegum mancessa. Ond ic bebiode on Godes naman ðæt nan mon ðone æstel from ðære bec ne do, ne ða boc from ðæm mynstre.”  That he was sending one copy [of his translation of Pope Gregory’s Pastoral Care] to each bishopric in his kingdom and “on ælcre bið an æstel, se bið on fiftegum mancessa” [and on/in each one an æstel worth fifty mancuses]. And he commanded that no one should take the æstel from the book nor the book from the minster.

Quite a few  objects similar to the Alfred Jewel have been found since, the most similar being the Minster Lovell Jewel, the most striking feature of that being that the gold ‘stem’ also has two holes and a rivet. The enamel also has very similar green-blue colouring. It’s supposed that a rod or wand was inserted into the stem and riveted in, the jewel being the handle or head of the rod.

MLJ

In the manuscript the word æstel is glossed as festuca – a rod; and also indicatorium (meaning unclear, for ‘indicating’ something, but what exactly? and did the glossator understand what the word meant, or was he guessing?). Intriguingly, a festuca was also called a vindicta where it meant the ‘liberating-rod’ in the ceremony of manumission or freeing of a slave. Indicatorium – vindicta? No, probably not. As you were.

For the record, here are two more æst… I mean objects like the other two jewels:

Warminster Jewel

Warminster Jewel

Bowleaze Cove Jewel

Bowleaze Cove Jewel

So what we have is several ‘jewels’ much like the Alfred Jewel which itself may or may not be an æstel that Alfred spoke of, that he was sending to each bishop with his translation. But they may be something quite different. Either way, it’s not 100% certain what they were for.

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