Medieval Miniature Gold Bible Found Near King Richard III’s Castle
A tiny gold Bible associated with England’s 15th century King Richard III has been recovered by a metal detectorist in York. The discoverer, however, was no seasoned explorer or dirty nailed archaeologist, but an NHS nurse. Richard III was King of England and Lord of Ireland between 1483 and 1485 AD, the last king of the House of York and the last male in the lineage of the Plantagenet dynasty. Now, a British nurse is set to make a small fortune after finding a rare artifact associated with this king.
#NHSnurse is set to make hundreds of thousands of pounds after finding tiny gold bible believed to have belonged to relative of #RichardIII while metal-detecting on farmland near #York #BuffyBailey discovered solid gold #Bible which has now left scholars stunned, so intricate pic.twitter.com/oWbonvIoTU
— Norgie Pal (@NorgiePaul) November 6, 2021
The gold bible may have been part of a birthing girdle, which were used in medieval societies across Europe. The MS. 632 birthing girdle: a) The dripping side-wound. b) The rubbed away green cross or crucifix. c) Tau cross with red heart and shield. (Courtesy of the Wellcome Collection)
The Gold Bible May Have Been Part of a Birthing Girdle
Buffy Bailey is a 48-year-old NHS nurse from Lancaster, who was recently metal detecting with her husband Ian on farmland near Sheriff Hutton Castle in North Yorkshire, just north of the city of York. A MailOnline article says her machine beeped erratically over an old footpath. After she excavated about five inches of top-soil she went to pick up what she expected would be a sheep's ear tag or an old can pull-ring. However, Buffy had discovered a miniature solid gold Bible.
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Measuring only 1.5 centimeters long (0.6 inches long) and weighing around 5 grams (0.18 ounces), the tiny 15th century gold Bible is made from either 22-carat or 24-carat gold. In the 1400s around 50 per cent of women died during childbirth and it is thought that maybe the owner prayed with the bible as a form of spiritual protection. It is also being considered that the golden bible was part of a “birthing girdle or a bookmark for the Bible,” according to the MailOnline.
The miniature gold Bible was likely made by the same goldsmith that created the famous Middleham Jewel shown here, which found close to King Richard III’s childhood home. (Yorkshire Museum / CC BY-SA 4.0)
Two Ancient Treasures Likely Made By Same Goldsmith
According to an article in Metro, scholars were stunned by the nurse’s discovery. Sheriff Hutton Castle was owned by King Richard III, and it is known he often resided there. Therefore, archaeologists think the bible could be linked to the Middleham Jewel that was found by a metal detectorist only 64 kilometers (40 miles) away, near King Richard III’s childhood home.
Similar to the Middleham Jewel, the gold bible is engraved with the medieval patron saints of childbirth, including St Margaret of Antioch. This suggests both artifacts were made by the same goldsmith for the same woman. In 1992, the Middleham Jewel sold for a whopping 2.925 million Euros (3.390 million dollars). According to Julian Evan-Hart, an expert in rare treasure and editor of Treasure Hunting magazine, whoever it was that owned and used the tiny bible was incredibly wealthy. He described it as an “exceptionally unique” historical artifact and that “there's nothing else like it in the world.” The miniature bible is estimated to be worth in excess of 119,000 Euros (138,000 dollars).
The gold Bible and the Middleham Jewel are both connected to King Richard III, who resided at Sheriff Hutton Castle where the bible was discovered by the metal detectorist. (Public domain)
Who Was The Bible's “Highly Notable Royal Owner”?
Evan-Hart said the gold Bible was made between 1280 and 1410 AD, when English laws made it illegal for anyone other than approved nobility to carry gold. Therefore, the bible was definitely the possession of someone “highly notable such as a member of royalty.” The artwork is “clearly iconographic,” said the treasure expert, and that is why he thinks it is connected with the Middleham Jewel.
The reason the Middleham Jewel it is worth so much more than the gold Bible is because it was set with a 10 carat blue sapphire stone symbolizing the Virgin Mary, and it was engraved with a Nativity scene and 15 saint’s faces.
Matt Lewis is a specialist at the Richard III Society, and he told MailOnline that perhaps the Bible belonged to “either Richard III's wife, Anne Neville, his mother Cecily Neville, or his sister-in-law Anne Beauchamp.” Lewis agreed with Evan-Heart that it is very possible that both this, and the Middleham Jewel, were commissioned by the same goldsmith for the same noble woman.
The remains of Sheriff Hutton Castle, which is where the gold Bible was discovered in a lucky find by amateur metal detectorist Buffy Bailey. (Shaunconway / CC BY 3.0)
The Fate Of The Gold Bible
After an appraisal, valuation specialists at York Museum will decide whether to buy the gold Bible from Buffy and Ian Bailey. If they go ahead the income will be split 50:50 between Buffy and the owner of the land on which the bible was discovered.
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How did such an intricate, rare and valuable artifact come to buried beneath a footpath? Everyone concerned thinks it doubtful that the Bible was lost accidentally. The strongest hypothesis so far is that its owner buried the Bible at the time of the Reformation when religious iconography was banned, and for whatever reason, never returned to reclaim the sacred birthing talisman.
Top image: Buffy and Ian Bailey and the miniature gold bible that Buffy found with her metal detector in North Yorkshire, England. Source: Buffy Bailey / Norgie Pal Twitter
By Ashley Cowie