The Wilton Cross
Byzantine, 7th century
Gold, garnet; H. 4.70cm, L. 4.50cm
This pendant displays the reverse of a lightweight solidus of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (reigned AD 610-41), which can be dated to between 613 and 630. The coin reverse, with a cross potent (with bars across the ends of the arms) on a stepped base, has been mounted upside down, perhaps so that it appeared the correct way up to the wearer. The coin is held in a filigree collar and surrounded by a ring of garnet cloisonné. The three flaring arms of the cross each contain a pattern of mushroom-shaped cells separated by arrowhead-shaped cells. This combination may itself be read as a stepped cross. The creation of cryptic motifs within a larger cloisonné pattern was a favourite device of Germanic jewellers from the fifth to the seventh centuries. The dated coin means that the Wilton Cross could not have been made before AD 613. In fact, the cross can also be dated by comparison with other high-quality Anglo-Saxon jewellery with overall garnet cloisonné. The combination of cell-shapes is paralleled on the Sutton Hoo ornaments and on a cloisonné cross found at Ixworth in Suffolk and now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. These exceptionally fine pieces of jewellery were probably made in an East Anglian workshop active in the early seventh century AD.