The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Treasure of Guarrazar

Hôtel de Cluny - crowns

Between 1858 and 1861 in an orchard called Guarrazar, in Guadamur, very close to Toledo, Spain a discovery was made of twenty six crowns and numerous gold crosses. These finds dating back to 587 and became known as the Treasure of Guarrazar. Some of the crowns and crosses from the Treasure of Guarrazar were acquired by France for the Cluny Museum.

The crowns were “votive crowns”. A “votive offering” is when one or more objects are displayed or deposited in a sacred place for religious purposes. A “votive crown” is a votive offering in the form of a crown, made of precious metals and adorned with jewels. In the Middle Ages they were designed to be suspended by chains at an altar, shrine or religious image.

The “Treasure of Guarrazar” had originally been offered to the Roman Catholic Church by the Kings of the Visigoths during the 600’s in Hispania (Spain), as a display of their orthodoxy, faith and submission to the Roman Catholic Church. It represents the best surviving collection of Early Medieval Christian votive offerings. The treasure represents the high point of Visigothic goldsmith’s work.

Museo de Cluny. Orfebrería visigótica. 06

The jewellery found at Guarrazar is part of a tradition of Iberian metalworking. The Visigothic works were influenced heavily by the Byzantines and German styles. The crowns were purely Byzantine in style and were gifts to the church, to be hung above the altar.

Orthodox Christians continue the practice of making votive offerings to the present day. Often in the form of metal plaques symbolising the subject of their prayers. Many will leave something of personal value, such as jewellery or awards as a sign of devotion.

The “Treasure of Guarrazar” was buried approximately 711 when the Berber-Arab troops of Tarik ben-Zyad invaded the Spanish peninsula. The votive offerings probably came from the churches across Toledo, the capital of the Christian kingdom and were buried for safekeeping in the face of invasion.

The treasure is divided between museums and countries and much has disappeared. Some of the objects went to the Musée de Cluny in Paris and the rest to the armouries of the Palacio Real in Madrid (today in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain). In 1921 and 1936, some items of the Treasure of Guarrazar in Spain were stolen and have disappeared.

Museo de Cluny. Orfebrería visigótica. 04

Today the collections are distributed across the following museums, consisting of:

  • National Archaeological Museum of Spain: six crowns, five crosses, a pendant and remnants of foil and channels.
  • Royal Palace of Madrid: a crown and a gold cross and a stone engraved with the Annunciation. A crown, and other fragments of a tiller with a crystal ball were stolen from the Royal Palace of Madrid in 1921 and its whereabouts are still unknown.
  • National Museum of the Middle Ages, Paris: three crowns, two crosses, links and gold pendants.

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                       Treasure of Guarrazar
  • Date:                       587
  • Buried:                    711
  • Discovered:           1858
  • Findsite:                 Guadamur, Toledo, Spain
  • Museums:              Musée National du Moyen Age

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You must not run after two hares at the same time.” French Proverb

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