Scan for the Black Shield

Wikimedia Commons |
Wikimedia Commons |

Medical technology has been used to address a long-running debate about one of Canterbury Cathedral’s most prized possessions: a shield dating from the 14th century. Was it battle armor or just a ceremonial item?

The shield’s original owner, Edward of Woodstock (1330-76), was better known as the Black Prince and was one of the greatest English warrior-princes of medieval times. He was a successful commander in the Hundred Years War and a model of chivalry. He was heir to the throne but died before his father, Edward III, who was succeeded by Richard II.

For 600 years the shield hung above the tomb of the Black Prince in the cathedral’s Trinity Chapel. In the 1950s, cathedral leaders replaced it with a replica in order to preserve the shield.

The cathedral plans to show the original shield later this year as part of a £24.7 million project called the Canterbury Journey.

Watching the scan was Bob Woosam-Savage, an expert from the Leeds-based National Museum of Arms and Armour. “It’s an exceptionally rare piece, and as far as we know this is the first time a medieval shield has ever been placed in a CT scanner,” he said.

“We’re trying to find out how it’s constructed and what type of wood it’s made from. In the past there has been conflicting evidence. Some say it’s made from fir and some believe it’s poplar. We’re also keen to find out if there is any evidence of shield straps.”

“With the scan results we will be able to carry out further research and not only get beneath the surface of the shield but also freely rotate and move the shield to carry out a more detailed examination,” said Heather Newton, the cathedral’s head of conservation.

She said there is still a way to go before categorical statements are possible about the shield’s function.


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