In 1998, a sensational discovery was made during archaeological excavations in the city centre – the Erfurt Treasure, which is today on show in the Old Synagogue.
Literally at the last moment before a planned new building was constructed, silver tableware and jewellery, coins and bars dating from the late 13th and early 14th century were found under the wall of a cellar entrance, in the district in which the first Jewish community lived until the plague pogrom in 1349.
The place of discovery and the Jewish wedding ring that was found support the theory that the treasure was concealed by a Jewish merchant out of fear of a pogrom. In terms of numbers, silver coins and silver bars make up the largest section of the treasure, indicating Erfurt’s significance as a trade centre.
Together with the coins and bars, it is primarily the exceptional Gothic goldsmiths’ work which makes the treasure so fascinating and valuable. It includes a large amount of silver tableware. Formerly, such collections were displayed on sideboards to show the wealth and social standing of the owner. A jug and a flat dish, which were slightly damaged when they were found, have raised and gold-plated patterning.
The treasure also included a set of eight goblets which fit into each other. Although common in their time, they have seldom been preserved. A double goblet which was flattened when found has proved to be the treasure within the treasure. It is decorated with pictures made of translucent enamel, which, although greatly corroded by their long period underground, still reveal some of their former beauty. A number of items of jewellery were found in this goblet.
Among the brooches are three which form a special group. They feature highly convex filigree animal portraits and can be dated back to the late 13th century. Thus they are the oldest items in the Erfurt Treasure which can be dated exactly. Such brooches were worn by both men and women, as will be shown in the exhibition.
The jewellery found also includes rings, which, like the garment and belt ornaments, bear witness to great craftsmanship and rare abundance and enable an insight into the world of 660 years ago.