Jewish jewels from Black Death plague on display

Mon Feb 23, 2009 7:29am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A hoard of jewels and coins, probably hidden by Jews fearing reprisals when the Black Death plague sweeping Europe was blamed on them, has gone on display in Britain for the first time.

The collection, including a delicate 14th century wedding ring, intricately decorated cups and dazzling jewels, was unearthed in Erfurt, Germany, in 1998, close to the town's 11th century synagogue.

Although historians cannot be sure, they suspect that the treasures were concealed in or around 1349 by Jewish families expecting to return and collect them later.

But whether because they were forced to flee, died in the plague or were among around 1,000 people killed in a pogrom in Erfurt in March that year, the items were left undisturbed for 650 years until excavations for a block of flats revealed them.

Some of the most precious pieces from the collection are on display at London's Wallace Collection alongside items from a second hoard found in France in 1863.

"There is a very poignant edge as these two treasures were almost certainly buried by Jewish families at the time of the Black Death when Jews were used as a scapegoat," said Stephen Duffy of the Wallace Collection in central London.

Among the highlights is a display case containing the three earliest known examples of Jewish wedding rings inscribed with the words "good fortune" in Hebrew and designed in the form of miniature houses.

Also on show is what the Wallace says is the only surviving medieval toilet set in the world, complete with an ear cleaner and perfume bottle. Only a handful of such hoards have been discovered.   Continued...