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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Fallibility and Fallout

With the Saint Anne hauberk in 1998

We all make mistakes. It is a human quality, not a condemnable fault if unintentional, though it certainly is if repeated. For that reason, I replaced the above photograph when I published the second edition of my book on crusader archaeology. I did so with regret because this was a particularly well-preserved and apparently authentic example of a medieval hauberk (suit of chainmail armour). When I came upon it two decades ago in the eclectic collection of antiquities preserved in a tiny museum in the convent of Saint Anne, I was delighted. It was well and truly the finest hauberk that I had found in Jerusalem. It was ideal for illustrating crusader armour in my forthcoming book, and if we would be permitted to use it, it would make a fine display in the upcoming exhibition commemorating the nine hundredth anniversary of the crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 that was planned to be held at the Israel Museum, and for which I had been scouring the monasteries and private collections in the Old City for artefacts. The priest who very kindly allowed me to photograph it and helped me carry it out into light of the convent courtyard, told me that it had been found in an excavation and that the small hole on the right shoulder was probably from a sword cut.

It was only sometime after the publication of my book that a scholar of medieval armoury pointed out something that I too had observed but had not appreciated the significance of. The loops of iron that formed the mail did not have the usual rivets joining the sides of each piece of iron wire to form a ring, but instead were very neatly overlapping like a key-ring (see detail below). He told me that it was undoubtedly not of European origin and possibly was somewhat later in date than the twelfth century.

Detail of the Saint Anne chainmail

The photograph I used in its place was one of two other hauberks I had come across. This one did have the appropriate rivets, and it too was, so I was told, a reliable finding, though I admit to harbouring some slight doubts, mainly because when I was shown it in 1998, it was brought out from storage accompanied by a very well-preserved helmet and sword, together seeming rather too good to be true. In fact, medieval weapons and armour found in excavations are usually quite badly corroded. The excavators at Montfort Castle in 1926 discovered this when the only armour they managed to recover in the castle (the whole intention of their expedition being the recovery of a suit of armour) were three badly corroded clumps, which led to the headline in the 1927 New York Herald: "METROPOLITAN EXPEDITION A DISMAL FAILURE".

Clump of corroded chainmail from Montfort Castle (courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

But the most unfortunate result of my using the Saint Anne hauberk in my book was the fate of that very kind priest who allowed me to remove it from the museum and photograph it in the courtyard. When, several years later I asked one of the brothers at the convent whether this gentleman was present and I could meet with him, he told me that the priest I was inquiring about had been banished back to France a number of years earlier, apparently because he had, against the regulations of the convent, allowed someone to remove an object from the museum display in order to photograph it in the courtyard.

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