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York's medieval treasures on show at the British Museum

By Carole Green
BBC York & North Yorkshire

Andrew Morrison and the Ormside bowl. Photo: York Museums Trust
The Treasures of Medieval York should raise the profile of the city in London

Treasures from the Yorkshire Museum have gone on display at the British Museum while the museum is closed for a £2 million refurbishment.

The two museums have had a long history of working together since the late nineteenth century but this is the first time the British Museum has given over gallery space to another institution's collections. It's also the first time the Yorkshire Museum has lent such a large number of objects.

York was one of medieval England's most powerful cities, rivalling London in size and importance. The city was the main administrative and judicial centre for the north of England.

It was, and still is, the seat of the country's second archbishop and had the power to raise its own taxes. York was also an important international trading centre.

The objects on display highlight major themes within Yorkshire's history and its role in European culture. They have been chosen to reflect the unique situation of Yorkshire's archaeological survival ranging from the waterlogged deposits of lower York to the abundant number of early medieval stone carvings across Yorkshire's parish churches.

Janet Barnes, Chief Executive of York Museums Trust says this exhibition has major significance for York:

Janet Barnes, Chief Executive of York Museums Trust. Photo: York Museums Trust
The British Museum has never shown a collection from a regional museum

"It's a big thing for us, the fact that it's the first time the Yorkshire Museum has lent a number of objects to the British Museum. They've never featured a collection from a regional museum before and it is the best museum in the world!"

Key objects on display include the Middleham Jewel and ring, the York Helmet and Ormside Bowl and the Vale of York Viking Hoard. The Yorkshire Museum will have to make sure they all come back again though, as Jonathan Williams, Keeper of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, has his eye on them:

"I would give my hind teeth for some of these things, they are stunning! I'm thrilled just to have them on loan here in the British Museum. These are objects that would grace any museum collection in the world, they grace the British Museum's collection and we're pretty good!

"They are of such wonderful significance, state of preservation, beauty of manufacture, and there are things we simply don't have in the British Museum, not even examples of."

It is hoped the exhibition will raise the profile of collections in regional museums. Curator of Archaeology at York Museums Trust, Andrew Morrison, is the man responsible for persuading the British Museum to display these objects:

"To have an exhibition in the British Museum of material from York, called the Medieval Treasures of York, is absolutely fantastic for the city. It shows off the treasures in a world class environment and it 'bigs' up the reputation of York in London itself."

If you're in London, you can see Treasures of Medieval York at the British Museum until 27 June 2010. If not, you can see them when they return to York and go back on display in their new home at the Yorkshire Museum on 1 August 2010.

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