Treasures Of Alfred The Great At Winchester Discovery Centre

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 31 January 2008
a photograph of the hilt and upper blade of a weathered and partly corroded sword

Anglo-Saxon sword. © Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Exhibition preview - Alfred the Great: Warfare, Wealth and Wisdom at the brand new Winchester Discovery Centre, Jewry Street, Winchester from February 2 to April 27 2008.

The inaugural exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre sees one of Winchester’s most famous inhabitants make a triumphal return to the city that once was his home.

Alfred the Great: Warfare, Wealth and Wisdom is a major exhibition of Anglo-Saxon treasures, which opens in the new Gallery at the Winchester Discovery Centre on Saturday, February 2 2008 and brings together for the very first time the most significant and stunning objects from King Alfred’s reign.

a photograph of a golden piece of jewellery with then face of a man inlaid within it

Alfred Jewel. © Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The exhibition tells the story of the King's battles against Viking invaders, his transformation of the English army into an effective force, his ambition for cultural advancement in England, his generosity and his legacy of culture, learning and craftsmanship.

It’s fair to say that Alfred changed England and it seems fitting that his final resting place of Winchester is host to such a celebratory exhibition.

Hampshire Museum Service has amassed an impressive collection of treasures for the show by collaborating with the Ashmolean Museum, British Museum, British Library, the V&A and many others to gather together a unique collection of original manuscripts, Viking weapons and hoards, Anglo-Saxon jewellery, coins, ceramics and other archaeological treasures.

a photograph of a medieval mansucript with lots of text on it

Pastoral manscript. © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

There are two central treasures in the exhibition. One is the Alfred Jewel, which is made of gold, enamel and rock crystal and is on loan for the first six weeks of the exhibition from the Ashmolean Museum.

Lettering around the edge reads ‘Aelfred mec heht gewyrcan’ or ‘Alfred ordered me to be made’, and it is thought to be the most important of a set of “aestels” or pointers used to follow lines of text when reading a book, which Alfred is said to have distributed as gifts to monasteries to encourage or reward literacy in those places.

The jewel itself was found in Somerset, not far from Athelney Abbey, the stronghold from which the King launched his counter-attack against the Vikings in the 870s.

a photograph of two sides of a coin one of which shows a mans face in profile

A coin of Alfred the Great. © Trustees of The British Museum

Until recently it was thought that only four of these aestels existed, all of which will be shown here together, but this exhibition brings together a further three, one from the Lofoten Isles in Norway, raising intriguing questions about the reach of Alfred’s influence.

The second iconic object, is Alfred’s own translation of Pope Gregory’s book of guidance to religious leaders, Cura Pastoralis or Pastoral Care. On loan from the Bodleian Library in Oxford, this can be called the first ever book in the English language, and is a treasure that belongs to the entire English-speaking world.

a metal brooch engraved with a design featuring the faces of various people together with other round designs

Fuller Brooch. © Trustees of The British Museum

Timed entry tickets priced at £5 for adults, £3 for concessions (includes Hampshire library card holders and student NUS card holders), are available from the Theatre Royal Box Office, Winchester on 01962 840440 or www.theatre-royal-winchester.co.uk. Children are admitted free.

This is an exhibition preview - if you have been to see this show, why not let us know what you think?

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