Rare medieval artefact goes on display at Museum of London

    14th century lead-alloy devotional panel. © MOLA/ Andy Chopping
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    A rare medieval devotional panel, discovered by archaeologists from MOLA, is now on display at the Museum of London until 28 September 2015.

    Archaeologists from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) discovered the Thomas, Earl of Lancaster panel, in remarkable condition by the River Thames. Depicting the capture, trial and execution of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, political rebel turned martyr, the panel is a fascinating piece of political propaganda and religious art, and one of the largest and the finest examples of its kind.

    Cast in metal and approx 130mm x 90mm, the panel includes scenes that depict a cautionary tale for ambitious politicians, and reveals that Lancaster was elevated to an almost saintly status after his death. Lancaster was a cousin of King Edward II and one of a group of barons who tried to curb the king’s power. Having caused huge political unrest, in 1322 Lancaster was defeated by Edward and publicly executed for treason near Pontefract Castle.

    Within six weeks of his death, miracles were being recorded in connection with his tomb. Whilst in life Lancaster had not been a saintly man, a cult soon built up around him, largely owing to the king’s unpopularity.

    For the first time, this find reveals the maker’s intended message. In slightly garbled French, the panel is read clockwise from the top left: ‘here I am taken prisoner’; ‘I am judged’; ‘I am under threat’ and lastly ‘la mort’ (death). The Virgin Mary and Christ look down from heaven, ready to receive Lancaster’s soul.

    Although a rare find today, the panel would have been mass produced at the time. A small number of parallels exist but these are fragmentary or in a poorer style.

    Sophie Jackson, MOLA archaeologist, said: “It’s thanks to the wet ground of the Thames waterfront that this beautiful metal object survived in such remarkable condition. It has an intriguing story and reveals a great deal about the political climate of the day.”

    The panel is now on display at the Museum of London until 28 September 2015.

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