Lichfield Cathedral to be part of Staffordshire Hoard’s Mercian Trail

Lichfield Cathedral will be part of a new Mercian Trail, being created as part of plans to showcase the magnificent Staffordshire Hoard on Anglo Saxon gold treasures.

And as part of the celebrations to mark the announcement that the Art Fund has saved the largest archaeological Anglo-Saxon find ever unearthed for the nation; the Cathedral has been chosen for an exclusive advance preview of a National Geographic film about the Hoard’s discovery.

The film Saxon Gold: Finding the Hoard will be shown on Friday night at 7.30pm.

The film will air on the National Geographic Channel on 28th March and on Channel 4 in early April; but this exclusive preview will enable local people to see the film in a Cathedral whose origins date back to the time and place of the Gold’s burial – Anglo Saxon Mercia.

The Hoard was found in July 2009 in a field near Lichfield. The Cathedral already contains two other Anglo-Saxon treasures: the illuminated St Chad Gospels and a carved panel depicting an angel. The Lichfield Angel is believed by historians to be part of the Shrine of Saint Chad.

Having raised the £3.3m cost of purchasing the Hoard for display in museums in Stoke on Trent and Birmingham; the Art Fund is now seeking to raise an addition £1.7m so that the Hoard can be properly conserved, studied and displayed. The additional money will also facilitate the future loan of items from the Hoard to key historic venues such as Tamworth Castle and Lichfield Cathedral – both described as important Mercian sites.

Plans for the future conservation and interpretation of the Hoard include the creation of a “Mercian Trail” which would highlight the fascinating history of Mercia, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom which covered the West Midlands area.

Experts believe that the 1,500 pieces of Anglo-Saxon gold contain many secrets about the “Dark Ages”, and there has already been much debate about the exact date at which it was buried. The Hoard also shifts the focus of Anglo-Saxon history from East to West. Previously, the most important treasure from the period was the Sutton Hoo burial ship, uncovered in Suffolk in 1939. Whilst experts believed that there would be immense wealth in Mercia, they had never found sufficient concrete evidence, until now; and say it could take decades to unlock all the secrets.

Leslie Webster, former Keeper of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum described the Hoard as: “the metalwork equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells.”

And she said it would: “alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England in the seventh and early eighth century as radically, if not moreso, as the 1939 Sutton Hoo discoveries did; it will make historians and literary scholars review what their sources tell us, and archaeologists and art-historians rethink the chronology of metalwork and manuscripts; and it will make us all think again about rising (and failing) kingdoms and the expression of regional identities in this period, the complicated transition from paganism to Christianity, the conduct of battle and the nature of fine metalwork production - to name only a few of the many huge issues it raises.

The Hoard includes a number of Christian items, including two, or possibly three, crosses and a biblical inscription on a strip of gold.

One of these, a pendant cross, is likely to have been designed for wear by an individual, its form resembles that of the lost Thurnham cross from near Maidstone, Kent, and the cross buried with St Cuthbert, who died in AD 687. Unlike the Cuthbert cross the Staffordshire find is decorated with filigree, not cloisonné garnets and has been broken, with one arm now detached.

The other gold cross is larger, suited for use as an altar or processional cross. It is folded but other than the loss of the settings used to decorate it, some of which, containing glass or gems are present, but detached; it appears complete.

There is another possible cross amongst the finds but it is impossible, at present, to claim that it is Christian, rather than simply a cross-shaped mount.

A strip of gold bears, on each of its two faces, a Latin inscription: “surge d[omi]ne [et] disepentur inimici tui et fugent qui oderunt te a facie tua.” This is from the Vulgate version of Numbers 10: 35 and translates: “rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be scattered and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.”

The Staffordshire Hoard contains over 1,500 finely crafted objects, mostly gold and some inlaid with precious stones. It was unearthed in July 2009 by a metal detectorist in a field near Lichfield, and was declared Treasure on 24 September 2009. The two West Midlands museums jointly bid to acquire the Hoard on 25 November and were given until 17 April 2010 to secure it.

Exhibitions of the Hoard in Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham and the British Museum have drawn visitors from near and far. One enthusiast from South Carolina travelled 3,000 miles to see the displays at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, whilst a 101 year-old antiques fan from Barlaston was recorded as the oldest person to visit the same exhibition. The Art Fund also received a touching letter from one nine-year-old girl from Devon, who pledged £10 from her own piggy bank to help “save the treasure”, and organised a special visit for her to see the Hoard displays.

The campaign has also attracted the support of various celebrities along the way, including Dame Judi Dench, Tony Robinson, Frank Skinner, Bill Wyman, Dr Tristram Hunt, and Michael Palin. The leaders of all three political parties have endorsed the campaign, alongside Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Minister for Culture and Tourism.