Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, made a private visit to Salisbury Museum today (1 May) to place the ninth century Warminster Jewel in the new Wessex Gallery of Archaeology.
The new £2.4 million world-class gallery, which opens in The Close in Salisbury this summer, houses the UK’s most important regional collection of Stonehenge and prehistoric artefacts. It includes the Amesbury Archer - popularly dubbed the ‘King of Stonehenge’. The gallery which has received £1.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, is set to become the discovery centre for Stonehenge and the region.
Sophie and Edward’s visit is part of the Royal couple’s current tour of the ancient Saxon kingdom of Wessex to mark the Earl’s 50th birthday.
During their visit, The Earl and Countess of Wessex were able to view some of the 2,000 unique exhibits currently being installed in the gallery which tell the story of early Britain - from the ancient Beaker people to the Roman invasion and Norman Conquest. Their Royal Highnesses were invited to help install the Warminster Jewel a ninth century gold, rock crystal and lapis lazuli jewel inset which was found in a field near Cley Hill, Warminster in 1997. The jewel is an aestel (manuscript pointer) made for Alfred, King of Wessex who sent aestels with his translation of Pope Gregory's Pastoral Care to all the dioceses in his kingdom.
“The opening of the Wessex Gallery this summer marks the beginning of a larger programme of re-imagining Salisbury Museum as a centre of discovery and excellence,” explains Adrian Green, Salisbury Museum director. “We know that The Earl and Countess of Wessex are keen on history and we cannot think of a more appropriate way to launch this next phase of the Museum’s history.” The Wessex Gallery will officially open to the public on 12 July, and will be marked by a day of celebrations and special events with entry to the Museum free on the day.