“The evidence does seem to point to an early female Saxon church leader, perhaps one of the first in this region,” Helen Bond, a professor of Christian origins and head of the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, wrote in an email.
“We know from the gospels that women played an important role in the earliest Christian movement, acting as disciples, apostles, teachers and missionaries,” Professor Bond wrote. “While their role was diminished later on at the highest levels, there were always places where women leaders continued (even sometimes as bishops).”
Amy Brown Hughes, a historical theologian at Gordon College, who studies early Christianity, called the necklace, which has been traced to the years 630 to 670, an “absolutely stunning” artifact from a volatile period when Christianity was becoming established in Anglo-Saxon England.
Noting that women have often been left out of narratives about Christianity, Professor Hughes said the necklace provides material evidence that “helps to reorient our assumptions about who actually had influence and authority.”
“Her burial demonstrated that this was a woman who was respected as a Christian, known for her devotion, and had some level of authority and influence,” Professor Hughes said in an interview.
Joan E. Taylor, a professor of Christian origins and Second Temple Judaism at King’s College London, said the fact that the woman was apparently buried in a village far from a main population center “testifies to the troubled times in this region of Britain in the 7th century.”
“Perhaps she was on a journey, or fleeing,” Professor Taylor wrote in an email. “It was a tough ‘Game of Thrones’ world with competing royal rulers aiming for supremacy. It was also a time where Christianity was spreading, and abbesses and other high-status women could play an important role in this.”
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