This is a rare and important survival of a Christian devotional object dating from the early 14th century. It was unearthed in the “Nun’s burial ground” at Romsey Abbey during excavations by antiquarian W. J. Andrew in 1922. Probably of French workmanship, the object is carved from elephant ivory, and traces of red paint survive in places.
Following the excavation the ivory was retained by Andrew, who exhibited it at the Society of Antiquaries in London in 1927. After Andrew’s death the ivory was sold at Sotheby’s in 1934 and effectively disappeared for more than sixty years.
In 1997 the ivory was offered for sale in Paris, and after raising the funds, it was acquired by Hampshire County Council museums Service.
One unfortunate occurrence between 1934 and 1996 was the loss of the Child’s head. This was restored by a conservator prior to the sale. The conservator suggested that the base of the ivory may have carried an inscription, but that is no longer visible today.
Scandal struck the nunnery at Romsey Abbey in the early 14th century. In May 1315 the abbess Alice de Wyntershull died after less than five months in office. The consternation this must have caused was heightened when the King (Edward II) issued a commission “touching the persons who killed Alice de Wintreshulle, late abbess of Romsey”. The affair seems to have blown over though judging by a letter from the Bishop ordering the excommunication of anyone speaking the slander that the abbess had been poisoned.
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