It represents the spirit of Christmas and it has been lost for 600 years - until now. 

The National Trust has revealed the discovery of ‘boy bishop token’ found by a detectorist in the grounds of Oxburgh Hall, near Swaffham. 

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Following a European Christmas tradition from medieval and early Tudor times, a choirboy at Bury St Edmunds Abbey was named ‘boy bishop’ and gave tokens to the poor to spend. 

Historians believe someone from Oxborough village made the journey to Bury for festive ceremonies at the abbey where they were given the token, and then may have lost it after they returned home. 

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Angus Wainwright, an archaeologist for the trust, said: “The token is not a thing of particular beauty, but it does have an interesting story.

"It was found by one of our metal detectorists who had been doing a survey of the West Park field at Oxburgh as part of our parkland restoration and tree planting.

“Before this happened, we undertook metal detecting, field walking and geophysics to find out more about the history of that field.

"The results have been fantastic, revealing not only part of a medieval village including horseshoes, hand-made nails and tools but also part of a Roman village.

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“This token most likely comes from Bury St Edmunds Abbey which was one of the biggest and richest in the country, St Edmund being one of the patron saints of England.

"Although tokens could be spent in the local town, they may also have been kept as keepsakes, but the one we have found could also simply have been dropped and lost.”

Mr Wainwright said the token, which dates from 1470-1560, showed how rich the cultural life of even the poorest folk was in the Middle Ages. 

Dereham Times: Angus Wainwright, National Trust archeologist Angus Wainwright, National Trust archeologist (Image: Supplied)He said: "It’s also interesting that the Christmas period was a time for fun and celebration aimed at children, with a child taking on the role of the bishop, and St Nicholas as patron saint of children.”

The token is now on display at Oxburgh Hall. 

When boy bishops took charge

On the feast day of St Nicholas - December 6 - in the medieval and early Tudor eras, choirboys were chosen to act as boy bishops over the Christmas period. 

It was a tradition that was also practised in other countries including Germany, Spain and France.

They would lead religious services and would collect money for the church and their local parish. 

Boy bishops, mostly in Suffolk, also doled out tokens to the poor, typically during town processions.

The tokens could be spent on food from December 6- December 28 (Holy Innocents Day).

Mr Wainwright said: “We believe that one of the inhabitants from Oxborough village must have made the long trip to Bury St Edmunds - around 27 miles - to see the festive ceremonies in the massive abbey church where they may have acquired the token. 

“As one of the biggest buildings in western Europe, this must have been a mind-blowing experience for someone from a tiny village.”