Incense Boat Lid from Leicester Abbey

Contributed by Jewry Wall Museum

A lid from an incense boat, or navicula, found on the site of Leicester Abbey © Leicester Arts and Museums Service

This medieval religious object would have held incense brought to England from Africa and Asia.This incense boat lid was made in the 1200s and was used to contain incense, such as frankincense and myrrh, for use in religious ceremonies at the now ruined Leicester Abbey.

Made out of copper in the Massif Central region of France, the coloured enamel decoration is likely to have been added at Limoges. However, exotic colouring agents such as cobalt blue, lapis lazuli and sapphire would have been imported from the East.

The object helps us imagine the upheaval at the time of the Dissolution. The lid may have been removed from the body of the incense boat after its removal from the High Altar of the Abbey, possibly around the time of the Abbey's surrender to the King and subsequent destruction in 1538.

The navicula gives us a sense of Leicester Abbey's wealth and prominence in its heyday. It shows us that the Church was able to bring intricate ceremony and exotic, imported goods to Leicester.

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