Curator's Choice: The Verulamium Museum

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The Independent Culture
Verulamium's Venus figurine has certainly led a charmed life. The figurine of Venus, the goddess of love, stands 8.5 in high and stood in a household shrine in the Romano-British city of Verulamium (modern St Albans) around 200 AD. By around 300 AD she had fallen from favour and formed part of a box containing what appeared to be scrap items in the cellar of a metal worker's premises where she was discovered by archaeologists in 1959. Once rescued she took pride of place in the Verulamium Museum.

Survival over 1600 years in the ground and subsequent discovery might be considered remarkable. Venus, having reached the 20th century, should have finally been secure. However, in June 1967, the figurine was stolen from the museum and remained lost before turning up without explanation on the museum director's back doorstep some 10 months later. Despite introducing an alarm system, Venus proved to be irresistibly attractive and was again stolen in 1977. Once more she proved too hot to handle and after nine months a 'Mr Smith' telephoned the director and led him to investigate under the hedge of the Stone House Hotel at nearby Hatfield. The figurine was wrapped in a ladies underslip and had sustained a broken leg.

The figurine is one of the finest to have survived from Roman Britain. Venus stands holding a golden apple, said to have been won in a beauty contest with the goddesses Juno and Minerva.

Sam Mullins is Director of St Albans Museum Service; The Verulamium Museum, St Michael's, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL3 4SW (0727 819339)