Ancient’ Christian silver cross worn by former Archbishop of Canterbury is exposed as a 19th century FAKE [pics with article]
Since its dramatic discovery in a Roman burial site, this silver cross was hailed as the earliest evidence of Christian worship in Britain.
It quickly became an enduring symbol of the early faith, with religious figures queuing up to wear it.
However, the silver pendant, once thought to be at least 1,600 years old, was yesterday revealed as a fake.
Using a new technique to determine its age, scientists discovered it was made using 19th century silver.
The results of the tests are likely to prove embarrassing to historians who claimed its discovery in an early-5th century Roman cemetery was evidence that the Christian faith had become more widespread in Britain earlier than was originally thought.
The find in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, in 1990 put the town on the archaeological map.
The town’s leaders named their theatre the Amulet [Now Academy].
A replica twice the size of the original was presented to Dr George Carey, the then Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1990.
He wore it when he was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1991.
Markings on the 1.75in disc are that of Chi Rho – an early Christian symbol incorporating the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek.
George Carey – the former Archbishop of Canterbury – wearing his replica of the Chi Rho amulet
They resemble the modern letters X and P in appearance.
It was discovered in a coffin buried at the site of a Roman village during excavations for a drinks warehouse.
The Chi Rho amulet was immediately thought to come from the same period as the grave it was found in.
But questions over its authenticity were raised when scientists from the University of Liverpool examined the piece as part of a programme of work involving the analysis of Roman silver coins housed in Somerset County Museum.
They were able to analyse the composition of the amulet in more detail than was previously possible.
Two samples of metal taken from the disc were found to be consistent with silver produced in the 19th century, or even later.
They also found that the silver disc and adjoining rivet had been constructed using silver from different sources.
Peter Leach, who led the archaeology team from Birmingham University during the excavation in 1990, said he did not suspect that any of his team were responsible for planting the hoax.
‘I obviously did think it was genuine at the time. There was never any doubt about its provenance. It was in a genuine Roman burial.’
Mr Leach suggested that opponents to the development may have planted the amulet to make the site more historically significant with the aim of halting the work.
‘It was presented to the then Bishop of Bath and Wells and he always wore it, which is slightly embarrassing,’ he added.
Jeanette Marsh, deputy leader of Shepton Mallet Town Council, said the hoax felt like the ‘magic had been removed’ from the town.
Stephen Minnitt, Somerset County Council’s museums chief, said: ‘The council can confirm that the artefact is almost certainly not the rare Christian artefact it was first believed to be.’