The Collection Management Team was abuzz with excitement on Saturday with the arrival of a new artefact; a silver-gilt rectangular plate from a Medieval book cover. The plate dates from around the 13th to 15th century and depicts a saint possibly St Peter seated on a throne holding a book to his chest.
The plate would have been one component of the cover of the “treasure binding” of a medieval religious book, most likely a delux edition of a gospel, missal or prayer book. The luxurious nature of these books reflects their sacred nature and it is likely they were commissioned by wealthy people, churches, senior clergy or royalty. You can see the four holes in the corners where the plate was attached to the wooden cover of the book. It is possible that some of the holes were inset with precious stones. The other spaces would have revealed an underlying colour.
Very few of these sumptuous medieval bindings have survived the reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries in England when ecclesiastical libraries were rounded up and treasure bindings were removed from “Popish” books of devotion. Most of the surviving examples of these come from Catholic areas of Continental Europe that have avoided wars and revolutions. One of the best-known examples is the cover of the Codex Aureus of St Emmeran.
Consequently, it is unusual to acquire an English plate from a book cover in such good condition. The filigree work on it is not a common feature so the Collection Management Team looks forward to uncovering some of the mysteries that come with such an intriguing artefact.