Home The Casket

Or: ... more than just an old box

Das Kästchen

The Runic Casket is made of whale bone (not of walrus tusk!). By naming the material the carver did not mean to guarantee the material (e.g. 'genuine plastic'); he rather meant to conjure the power of the gigantic 'fish', the bones of which were regarded the store of its potency, just the way the bones of the saints were expected to function. In general, we may say that some material (certain kinds of wood, bone or metal) was more suitable to bear magic runes (may be 'reddened with blood') than other substance.

As for the size of the plates, parts of the jaw have been used. The measurements of the panels:

  Front and Back

the Sides

the Lid (remaining portion)

~ 23 cm x 10.5 cm

~ 19 cm x 10.5 cm

~ 22,5 cm x 8.5 cm

The four walls fit with two tongues on each side into the grooves of the four rectangular corner elements. As we can take from the drill holes, the walls and the corner elements were firmly connected with dowels. Silver clasps covered these unwrought parts. The bottom fits into the grooves of the walls and of the corner elements.

The three segments from which the lid was composed, were joined in a similar way. Only the middle segment with its carvings has survived. Originally, it may have had a silver mounting, as we can assume from the blank circular spot in the centre. According to our interpretation it was a disc which served as a symbol fort the Sun. A lock, worked into the front panel, kept the lid shut. These and all the other mountings, which used to cover the now blank spots, are missing. That they were of silver is stated in a discovery report.

According to that report the casket was owned by a middle class family in Auzon, Haute Loire (France). There it had served as a lady's sewing box, until a son of the family chose to trade in the silver for a silver ring. Without its fittings, the container fell apart. Around 1850 they were shown to some Professor Mathieu from neighbouring Clermont-Ferrand, who handed them on to an antique shop in Paris. There - in 1857 - they were found by the art collector and archaeologist Sir Augustus W. Franks. He was the first one to realize the Anglo-Saxon origin of the carvings. He acquired the panels and later donated them to the British Museum, London.

One panel was missing then. It was found later in a drawer of the said family in Auzon came into the possession of some gentleman from Lyon, L. Carrand by name, and from there into the collection of the Bargello Museum, Florence. Nowadays, a cast of it completes this reassembled casket. Due to its history the box is referred to either as Auzon Runic Casket or as Franks Casket.

It now stands well protected behind glass among other finds from Anglo-Saxon days in the Department of Medieval and Modern Europe of the British Museums. Hardly any visitor passing this unique piece of early medieval art will be able to interpret the pictures much less to read the inscriptions or even sense the magic power the carver had meant to supply.


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