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1000 years of legacy - New Viking & Medieval Galleries at the Manx Museum 6 July 2007

The Chief Minister has opened the new Viking & Medieval Galleries at the Manx Museum where Manx National Heritage brings you face-to-face with a Viking from Balladoole ……and his horse! Chief Minister & MNH Chairman

The Galleries were opened by Chief Minister, Hon. J. A. Brown MHK on Wednesday 4 July. Martin Moore, Chairman of the Trustees of Manx National Heritage, welcomed the Chief Minister and placed on record the thanks of MNH Trustees to Government and Tynwald for their continuing support for the renewal of the core national heritage collections and displays at the national museum.

Mr Moore added:

“We hope you feel that we have provided you and the community with another asset of which we can all be proud, and one which will enrich the understanding, appreciation and reputation of the Island for all those who visit it.”

In replying, Chief Minister, Hon. J. A. Brown MHK remarked on the excellent record of MNH in delivering an important community service, which built awareness and pride in national heritage, and concluded, “On behalf of the Government, I would like to congratulate the Trustees and all those involved in creating these splendid new Viking and Medieval Galleries, which I have great pleasure in formally declaring ‘open’.”

The new displays are the work of Curator of Archaeology Allison Fox, Field Archaeologist Andrew Johnson, and Curatorial Services Officer Kirsty Neate, who acted as project manager. The scheme was overseen by MNH Director Stephen Harrison and members of the senior management team. Gallery design services were provided by Haley Sharpe Design (who have previously worked with MNH at the House of Manannan and Rushen Abbey) and the project has involved a whole host of specialist sub-contractors.

Kirsty Neate remarked:

“Our aim has been to place the Vikings and their legacy in a specifically Manx context, and to show what an enduring legacy they left to the people of the Isle of Man - the most obvious being Tynwald - rather than perpetuating the more usual notion of the Vikings as marauding bands of raiders with very few positive effects.”

Many objects never previously on public display are shown in the new galleries. Major excavations at Peel Castle, Castle Rushen and Rushen Abbey over the past 20 years, together with a number of important new finds made by members of the public, have offered the curators a wide selection from which to choose.

Allison Fox explains:

“An important aspect of the new galleries is the manner in which objects are presented. The galleries aim to present arefacts in a way that shows how they would have looked and been used all those centuries ago. For example, weapons, jewellery and other items are displayed both as original archaeological finds as well as modern reproductions. We hope in this way to make these objects much more understandable as well as providing a memorable, dramatic and educational experience.”

In commissioning the replica objects, the curatorial team has drawn extensively on local skills as well as international contacts in the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia. This has brought together the knowledge and practical expertise of academics and medieval re-enactors with the craft workers whose skills produce replica weapons, artefacts and costume.

Dramatic new exhibits include the figures of a man and woman of the Viking period dressed in reproductions of what they would originally have worn, with the weaponry and jewellery of the time. The figure of the woman is inspired by the famous Pagan Lady buried at Peel Castle, while the man, accompanied by his ‘Norse Horse’ based on a Scandinavian breed, is dressed according to evidence derived from two important burials from Balladoole in Arbory and Cronk Mooar in Jurby.

Also newly displayed is the Ogham-inscribed stone, unearthed from the keeill site at Mount Murray and featured on Channel Four’s Time Team in January. Research is ongoing to discover the exact purpose of the stone, which dates from around 1000 years ago and was kindly donated to MNH by Albert Gubay.

The displays also make extensive use of modern technology. On a plasma screen, forensic science helps you trace the reconstruction of the face of the Balladoole Viking. Through another interactive touch-screen display visitors can view images of all sorts of jewellery and coins – and turn them over to see the other side!

Andrew Johnson explained:

“We realised that new research and modern technology could be brought together to allow the telling of a fascinating and unique story – the analysis of a thousand year-old skeleton, itself excavated more than half a century ago, and the subsequent reconstruction of how that person looked. The scientific analyses also told us his age, his probable geographical origins, and narrowed down the probable time of his death!”

The curatorial team also took the opportunity to reassess the Island’s internationally important collection of carved stone crosses, creating a new database of over 200 carved stones. An interactive feature allows visitors to view the whole collection or to select an individual cross and see images of the cross and information about it. The images are projected onto a flat white surface so that they can be traced using paper and pencil. A collection of rubbing plates allows visitors to take away images of figures, animals and patterns selected from the crosses, and a children’s story book recounts the tale of a figure familiar from the Manx crosses, the legendary Norse hero Sigurd, as he slays dragons and rescues treasure.

The galleries’ medieval section provides an insight into how trade, the Church and political systems developed in the Island, and features portraits of some of the Island’s most influential figures. At the heart of the medieval section is a specially commissioned audiovisual presentation explaining the origins of Tynwald and its parliamentary role, one of the most tangible legacies of the Viking period. To underline the importance of the Church during this period, the Jurby Chalice dating from around the mid-1500s returns to public display after several years in storage, together with the Mylcharaine Cross, on display for the first time. Also making their debut are the second Sword of State and a flask from the late 1600s as well as a pot dredged up in pieces in the 1970s off the Port St Mary coast.

After an absence of ten years, MNH has also secured the return for a time of the Isle of Man’s most significant medieval manuscript through a loan agreement with the British Library. The Chronicles of the Kings of Mann and the Isles will play one of the starring roles in the new Medieval Gallery. The manuscript is believed to have been composed and written at Rushen Abbey about 1257, and reviews, year by year, significant events in Manx history. It celebrates the role of the Norse Kings of Mann and the Isles as well as Rushen Abbey itself – which was founded at the invitation of Olaf, one of the Norse kings.

One of the most important permanent additions to the Medieval Gallery is the original manuscript of the 1765 Proclamation of The Act of Revestment, together with its original pendant seal of King George III.

Commenting on these new artefacts Allison Fox, said:

“The document underlines the strategic importance the British Crown placed on the Isle of Man, buying back the Island that year from John Murray for the sum of £70,000.”

All together, the new displays present 1000 years of Mann’s history when the Island played a very significant role in the Western Atlantic, around the British Isles and in the Irish Sea and when the seeds of what it is to be Manx grew into the Island-nation that we are today.

The new Viking and Medieval galleries open to the public on Tynwald Day, Thursday 5th July, at 2pm, then from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Admission to the Manx Museum and the opportunity to view these fascinating new galleries is free of charge.

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