A woman literally struck gold while out searching for interesting artefacts with a metal detector. Buffy Bailey, who works as an NHS nurse, initially thought she would dig up a sheep’s ear tag or an old ring-pull from a can of fizzy drink when she picked up a signal indicating there was something in the ground.
But instead, after digging around five inches into the soil she found a tiny, solid gold Bible which could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The object, which is just 1.5cm long and weighs only 5g, is engraved with figures believed to be the patron saints of childbirth, including St Margaret of Antioch.
Experts think it could be linked to the ‘Middleham Jewel,’ a gold pendant found by a metal detectorist 40 miles away – which sold for a massive £2.5 million in 1992.
That piece of jewellery, discovered near King Richard III’s childhood home, had similar engravings which may have been carved by the same blacksmith and given to the same woman.
The objects’ owners are thought to have been someone of high standing, perhaps royalty, as only the nobility were allowed to carry gold during that period.
It is likely to have been someone pregnant due to the nature of the engravings, which were intended to protect women in childbirth.
Buffy, 48, found the Bible after taking a trip to York with her husband, who also shares her passion for metal detecting.
The gold book is understood to have been found near Sheriff Hutton Castle in North Yorkshire, another property that belonged to Richard III who often spent time there.
They had got permission from the owner of the land before starting their search and chose the area because of its rich history.
Now, their discovery may be of international importance.
Mrs Bailey said: ‘Metal detecting is not a very sociable hobby and people will often try to start the conversation by saying things like, “oh have you found anything good?”
‘I just wanted to focus on detecting so I turned my back to the footpath so walkers wouldn’t talk to me and just as I did I got a signal in that exact spot.
‘When I took the clay off I realised it was something a bit different. My first thought was that it was some kind of charm from a gift shop.
‘I took a photo and enlarged it on my phone and that’s when I knew it was gold.
‘It was so heavy and shiny – just absolutely beautiful. When you held it into the light it threw rainbows at you. ‘I couldn’t believe it. I called my husband who was in another field and asked him to come to get me because I just couldn’t move.
‘I told him, “I need to sit down,” but he said “I need to carry on looking!” He left me standing there for another hour.’ Mrs Bailey, from Lancaster, has since shown the book to the Richard III Society and it is currently being assessed by the Yorkshire Museum.
Mr Bailey, 59, said the museum had described the book as ‘internationally important and that experts from around the world are keen to look at it. Mrs Bailey added: ‘They told us the engravings were definitely St Leonard and St Margaret – who were both patron saints of child birth.
‘In the 1400s around 40 to 60% of women died in childbirth, so the owner may have prayed with this object as a kind of protection – it may have been part of a birthing girdle or a book mark for the Bible.
‘Whoever had it commissioned must have been incredibly wealthy – there’s nothing else like it in the world. It could be worth £100,000 or more.’ Julian Evan-Hart, an expert in rare treasure and editor of Treasure Hunting magazine, described it as an ‘exceptionally unique’ historical artefact.
He said: ‘The book is dated between 1280 and 1410 when sumptuary law made it illegal for anyone other than the nobility to carry gold.
‘The artwork is clearly iconographic and bears a close resemblance to the Middleham Jewel – there is every possibility that it was made by the same artist.’
Matt Lewis, a specialist at the Richard III Society has seen the book. He said: ‘It is far too valuable an item to have simply been lost, so its owner may have buried it for the future at the time of the Reformation when religious depictions were outlawed.’
York Museum will now examine it before deciding whether to raise the funds to buy the gold book from its finders based on an auctioneer’s valuation.
The proceeds would then be split evenly between Mrs Bailey and the owner of the land where it was found.