The Alfred Jewel

[photo of Alfred Jewel]
This picture of the Alfred Jewel is reproduced by the kind permission of the Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Image copyright is held by the Ashmolean Museum. This image may not be reproduced without permission from the copyright holders.

See the King Alfred page for information about King Alfred the Great.

The Alfred Jewel bears the inscription "AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN", "Alfred ordered me to be made" and dates from the reign of King Alfred the Great (ruled 871-899). The jewel is made of gold and cloisonne enamel, covered with a transparent piece of rock crystal. It was discovered in 1693, and is kept in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The function of the jewel is unknown. It may have been an "aestel", an object which Alfred sent to each bishopric when his translation of Gregory's "Pastoral Care" was distributed. Each aestel was worth 50 mancuses (gold coins), so was a very expensive object. The consensus is that an aestel was intended to be used as a book pointer. If this theory is correct, there should have been several such jewels. The Alfred Jewel was discovered four miles from Athelney, where Alfred had founded a monastery.

On the other hand, it seems unlikely that such a beautiful object as the Alfred Jewel would have been lost or destroyed in all but one copy if several were made. Another theory is that the jewel was a symbol of office, either of Alfred or of one of his officials. Alfred often gave gifts to his bishops and other officials, and the inscription "Alfred ordered me to be made" may adorn such a gift.

The figure on the Jewel has been supposed to be a represention of Christ as the incarnate form of the Wisdom of God, or possibly to be a personification of Sight.

For detailed information about the Alfred Jewel, see:

Last updated February 3, 1997 by Ken Roberts email

Related Pages: