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Rock crystal ball mounted in white-metal gilt slings

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posted on 2021-10-27, 15:33 authored by Helena HamerowHelena Hamerow
Brent 1863, 317-9: The Crystal Ball.-This most interesting relic is, I believe, the largest crystal ever found in a grave. Its diameter is nearly two inches and a half, and its weight within fifteen grains of ten ounces avoirdupois. It is girt with two flat bands of silver-gilt, about a third of an inch in width, embossed in parallel lines, three towards each edge, and a broader one in the centre. The bands cross each other underneath it, and meet again at the top in a sort of circular turret, through which runs a large ring of silver-wire, eight inches and a quarter in circumference, by which the ball was suspended. To this ring, as in the example given by Douglas[1] of a smaller ball, thus mounted, found on Chatham Lines in 1782, another similar ring has probably been attached, the fragments of which were found beside it.[2]These crystal balls are not uncommonly found in our Saxon graves, though seldom mounted. Bryan Faussett found one at Kingston[3]; one from Chartham Down was in the collection of Sir William Fagg; and the late Lord Londesborough took a perforated crystal from a barrow on Breach Down. They were prized and preserved by the Romans also, and have been found in their sepulchral deposits.Their object is not very apparent. The suspending bands and rings of this and of Douglas's specimen imply their use as ornamental appendages, although the size and weight of the former suggests a certain awkwardness and inconvenience, were such a decoration to swing from a lady's waist or girdle. The greater number, however, of such crystals have no suspending rings nor bands. Did they indicate an office or profession in their possessors? or, as Douglas suggests, were they connected with magical rites or superstitious practices? We know so little of the inner life and of the religious forms of the early Saxon tribes, that we cannot satisfactorily decide this point. Unquestionably a vast amount of superstition pervaded the northern nations even after the introduction of Christianity,-a longing after some of the dregs of the old faith; and some practices of Paganism may have long continued, as amongst the Bretons[4] and inhabitants of Armorica, the Druidic circle, the cromlech and the cairn, had so strong a mystery for the fears or reverence of the population, that, in spite of the prohibitions of their Church and its ministers, they were ever found lingering by the \weird grey stones\" with reverence and awe. The use of these spheres for magical purposes both in ancient and modern times in Europe as in the East is a fact too well established to challenge debate. We have even in our own day seen the crystal consulted with implicit belief by well-educated people. The rude Anglo-Saxon valued it for some purpose unknown and it was buried with him in the grave. Was it not with him some symbolical remnant of mystery or ancient superstition? It is nothing very extraordinary if it were; but surely it would be something to be marvelled at if a thing then prized only as an ornament became in an after age and in a highly-educated one considered to possess wonderful and magical properties.One of our best living authorities[5] enters somewhat into this view of the case when he describes these crystals as worn or used as amulets. Another[6] classes them merely as ornaments to the person.[1] Nenia Britannica p. 14 etc. – J.B.[2] Two other mounted crystals in all respects resembling this were taken by Mr. Hillier from Saxon graves on Chessell Down in the Isle of Wight and with one of them was found a perforated spoon as in this grave. Douglas is not very convincing in his arguments to prove that the crystal and spoon as well as the shears and glass vessel with which as in this grave they are sometimes accompanied were connected with magical rites; and the better opinion seems to be that of Mr. Roach Smith who assigns them to ordinary uses. The ring which suspends this ball of ours – and its broken companion if we may judge by the fragments – are as the rings of the three other specimens constructed to extend or contract evidently to fit the wrist or arm; and the position of the crystal in the grave between the thigh-bones well bears out the idea that it was attached as an ornament to the wrist at the time of burial– most probably to the left wrist to correspond to the more costly but less cumbrous gold ornament found as seems natural on the right. It is objected that some of these crystal balls not being mounted could not have been used as personal ornaments; but it does not seem difficult to suppose a mounting of some perishable material as leather or wood. The shears it will be seen lay in this grave close to the comb a portion of which still adheres to them; and this juxtaposition does not lead us to believe that they could be anything but an ordinary domestic implement. May not the spoon also have been an article of the toilet for sprinkling scent or some such use? The glass vessels are invariably of the pointed shape which is believed to be that of the drinking-cup or \"tumbler\" and when found in women's graves as here seem to shew that even ladies were not exempted from the custom of draining their glasses at a draught. – T. G. F.[3] Inventorium Sepulchrale p. 42. – J.B.[4] See Barzaz Breiz by Villemarque Introduction.– J.B.[5] Mr. Wright Pagan Saxondom p. 10. – J.B.[6] Note by Mr. C. R. Smith to Inventorium Sepulchrale p. 43. – J.B."Crystal ball mounted in silver gilt. Lying between thighs. Diameter nearly 2 1/2 inches girt with 2 flat silver gilt bands. (Silver ring - diam. 5.2cm - similar to one attached to top probably attached to spoon as fragments found nearby.Diam 5.2cm, clear polished crystal, somewhat spherical internally. Base of string plain rectangle stamped pellet with triangle decoration. Collar now broken, fragments in box in reserve. Ring diam. 6.2cm broken in one place.


Grave ID

Sarre Grave 4

Object ID


Catalogue Number

KAS 318


rock crystal, white metal, gilt (Sonia Hawkes Material Notes; silver gilt) (Antiquarian Material; silver gilt)

Complete Keyword List (Including Alternatives)

miscellaneous, ball (Sonia Hawkes Keyword; mounted ball) (Antiquarian Keyword; mounted ball)




Maidstone Museum


Kent Archaeological Society

Category ID


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    The Novum Inventorium Sepulchrale


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