A rare discovery: Revealing the mysteries of local history in Trumpington
Tucked away in woodlands near to Byron’s Pool just outside Cambridge, England, walkers might stumble across a mysterious mosaic apparently showing a grave full of strange objects. Here I reveal the story behind this rather unusual mosaic project, a Saxon Grave mosaic folly.
A Saxon Bed Grave reveals a time of great change in England’s past
Our story begins with a very rare discovery, the beautiful gold cross inlaid with cut garnets shown at the top of this article was discovered during excavations nearby in Trumpington Meadows. The cross was part of a rare discovery indeed, a young woman buried in the 7th century in a Saxon bed grave. The practise of burying in an ornamental bed itself is very unusual and to find this cross makes it particularly significant. At the end of the 6th century St Augustine arrived on a mission from the Pope to convert the Saxon Kings of England so this grave illustrates how the conversion to Christianity was effecting the aristocracy of Eastern England. This was the inspiration for the Saxon Grave mosaic folly.
An experience of discovery and a mystery to unravel
The mosaic was designed by MUF Architecture/Art as part of their discovery trail for Trumpington Country Park. The intention was to combine artefact and experience in a point of discovery that reflected on the entire ecology and history of the area. Describing the design Muf Artist Partner Katherine Clarke said:
“The idea of the mosaic is as if the ground has been cut away to reveal the layers of the past beneath from the prehistory of a shallow sea through the Saxon times to the Plant Breeding station and up to the present day, so motifs and artefacts from a range of historical periods are brought together as the objects that might be placed in the grave of a contemporary girl of the age the saxon body was assesed to be. The setting was an attempt to make something that is ‘discovered’ so each person who comes across it can have that sense of puzzling what it is – rather than everything being explained and so take away the idea that perhaps there is more mystery in the landscape to be found.”
Muf Architecture asked me to create the mosaic from their concept design here.
Creating the Saxon Grave mosaic folly: building a harmony of colour and light
The mosaic was constructed in my studio using hand cut unglazed porcelain with the average tesserae size around 10x10mm and smaller. The design contained many references to contemporary and historic objects and fauna so reference pictures were used including Holbein’s beautifully haunting ‘Body of Christ’. Other items which feature in the mosaic include modern things such as a laptop, mobile phone, toy car, My Little Pony toy, printed circuit boards, medicines and books. These sit alongside more ancient items such as pots, statuary and a drinking horn as well as evidence of the local ecology, shells, plant roots and Lamprey.
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