Figurine of the Virgin Mary, Eye

front, back and sides of medieval figurine of the virgin mary

A medieval copper-alloy gilt figurine of the Virgin Mary dating c. 1380-1500, found in the Diss area.

Prior to the English Reformation that swept away most elements of Catholicism from the 1530s to 1550s, visitors to churches would have seen painted murals, ornate stonework, icons, colourful vestments, stained glass, silver gilt communion sets, illuminated manuscripts and suchlike. Acts such as Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536/1539 and Edward VI’s injunctions against images and icons in 1547, would contributed to the destruction of Catholic-influenced church finery, both in terms of metallic and non-metallic objects.

Many objects clearly disposed of because of these historical events have been recorded, including book fittings, fragments of brasses, crucifix pieces and censer covers. Some have been discovered just yards from the churches they were once originally housed in, while others appear to be scattered throughout wider landscapes.

More rarely recorded are figurines such as this example, which take various forms of the Virgin Mary, St John the Evangelist or contemporary clerical figures such as monks. It is usually thought that they occurred in pairs or sets on processional crosses. What is also notable about these figurines is the degree of similarity between them; it has been suggested that all were manufactured in a central workshop by one or several specialised craftsmen, possibly based in London.

A representation of how these figurines might have been associated with the main crucifixion scene is visible on the ‘Freiburg Cross’, manufactured in the Upper Rhine between c. 1280-1300. On this processional cross, the central figure of Jesus is flanked by two figures (one of whom is Mary) below.

Example of a Freiburg Cross
the ‘Freiburg Cross’, a processional piece from Germany dating to the late 13th or early 14th century, illustrated here to show how the Eye figurine may once have been attached. Photograph copyright of the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia.

View the full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database

Thank you to the finder for allowing this object to be featured.

This find was recorded by the Suffolk Finds Recording Team, supported by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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