Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Medieval jewellery put on display

A 14th Century gold Jewish wedding ring
The exhibition features two hoards of Medieval gold and silver jewellery

Two priceless hoards of medieval jewellery and coins have gone on display in the UK for the first time.

The finds, some of which date back to the 14th century, originated in Jewish communities in Germany and France.

Among the display at London's Wallace Collection are three of the earliest known examples of Jewish wedding rings.

Experts say the items were buried by families during the Black Death, when Jews were being made scapegoats for the spread of the plague.

Stephen Duffy, of the Wallace Collection, in Manchester Square, London, said the items were "very rare and unusual survivors from the medieval period".

"This is not simply an exhibition of treasures, there is also a very poignant element as these items were almost certainly buried by Jewish families at a time when they feared death or expulsion," he said.

Historical significance

The Treasures of the Black Death exhibition brings together two hoards of medieval gold and silver jewellery.

One, from Colmar, France, was found hidden in the walls of a house in 1863.

A magnifying glass is held over 14th Century silver dress ornaments at the Wallace Collection in London
It is impossible to put a value on such unique objects
German archaeologist Karin Sczech

The larger part of the display was found buried in Erfurt, Germany, in 1998, close to the site of Europe's oldest synagogue.

The wedding rings show a house which symbolises the home of the couple and the Temple of Jerusalem. The inscription reads: "Mazal tov", meaning "good fortune" in Hebrew.

A 650-year-old perfume bottle is part of the only surviving medieval cosmetic set, complete with ear cleaners and tweezers.

German archaeologist and curator of the exhibition, Karin Sczech, said the weight in silver of the Erfurt discoveries was 30kg (66lbs), but no price could be put on the collection.

She said: "It is impossible to put a value on such unique objects.

"As well as being precious stones and materials, the items have great cultural and historical significance."

The most notorious pandemic of the Black Death, also known as the Bubonic Plague, was during the 14th century and it wiped out about a third of the population of Europe.

At its height in 1349, almost 1,000 Jews were killed in Erfurt in one day.

The Jewish population was decimated and the Erfurt synagogue abandoned.

It became a warehouse before being used, unwittingly, by the Nazi party as a dance hall.

The synagogue is currently being refurbished as a museum and will house the Erfurt artefacts permanently from autumn this year.

The exhibition at the Wallace Collection in central London will open on Thursday 19 February until Sunday 10 May.

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