Taking a step into the darkened and hallowed halls of the Queensland Museum’s Medieval Power Exhibition, presented in partnership with the British Museum, is akin to being transported through history to a time where religion ruled and democracy was just an idea.

Showing at the Queensland Museum until April 10, Medieval Power: Symbols and Splendour tells the story of the period known as the Dark Ages, from about AD 400 to AD 1500, and provides expert insights into the themes surrounding the formation of Europe, Royal power, heavenly treasure, courtly life, urban life and the medieval legacy.

In a milestone for the Queensland Museum Network, the Brisbane-based museum is the first (and only in Australia and New Zealand) stop on the exhibition’s world tour.

Dr Alexander Hayward, Director of Collections, Research, Exhibitions and Lifelong Learning at the Queensland Museum, said that bringing the exhibition to Brisbane would not have been possible without a collaborative effort. “An exhibition like Medieval Power: Symbols and Splendour is the result of a long period of liaison with colleagues in the British Museum, working through a range of issues like exhibition design, transporting the artefacts, and choosing museum merchandise for the exhibition shop,” Hayward said. “A specific challenge for this exhibition was that, as a world premiere, it was the first time that many of the artefacts had  been on display — not even the British Museum curators had seen all the artefacts brought together like this. Queensland Museum exhibition designers rose magnificently to the challenge of creating a setting worthy of the exhibition objects,” Hayward said.

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Medieval Power effectively takes the viewer on an historical journey, depicting everything from daily medieval life to the power of the church and the people’s relationship with religion. It showcases the inner workings of trade guilds, using beautiful artefacts such as stone carvings, jewellery, chess pieces and playing cards to illustrate the threads of life and teach us about this notoriously undocumented period in history.

“For a long time, this period was thought of as the Dark Ages and our exhibition turns that idea on its head,” Hayward said. “It was a time of great learning and the beginnings of scientific enquiry, a period of religious tolerance, and where the foundations of democracy were laid — so it’s a period of history that is laying the ground work for a lot of values still important to us now.”

Brisbane has, once again, proved an enthusiastic audience for the exhibition, with two of the museum’s Medieval Power After Dark events selling out and visitors of all ages finding something to love. “The exhibition has been received very well not only locally, but with interstate and international visitors — it’s proving very popular with visitors of all ages,” Hayward said. “One of the things that stands out for me is seeing some of our visitors coming to events dressed in medieval costume — it’s just fantastic seeing them really getting into the exhibition.”

For more information on Medieval Power: Symbols and Splendour, visit www.qm.qld.gov.au

Words by Shannon Coward | Images provided by the Queensland Museum