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New medieval gallery in British Museum opens


Detail from a Shield of Parade, late 15th century, from Flanders or Burgundy, in the new medieval gallery. Note the chain connecting the knight to his lady.
Image: The Trustees of the British Museum

The gallery, which opens tomorrow, displays the Royal Gold Cup, made in Paris sometime between 1370-80; an intricately carved citole, a unique medieval musical instrument; the world-famous Lewis chessmen, dating back to around 1150-1200; a magnificent tiled pavement from Byland Abbey, North Yorkshire; the Dunstable Swan Jewel; and a hoard of gold coins.


The Dunstable Swan Jewel. This jaunty swan was probably a livery badge, worn to express allegiance in the 14th century. Several English families liked to trace their descent from the legendary swan knight, who arrived in a swan-drawn boat to rescue a lady.
Image: The Trustees of the British Museum

The new gallery also contains the just-discovered relics of saints, found when an altar in the Museum was opened for the first time. They include a relic of St Benedict, the founder of Christian monasticism, without whom Western civilisation would arguably never have existed.

The Museum's Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery of Medieval Europe covers the period from AD 1050 to 1500. James Robinson is the curator of the show and author of an accompanying book. This gallery makes me long to take a look - or as a friend of mine used to say, a lurk.

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