This week I am working on a rather enigmatic find known as a ‘pilgrim badge’. This particular one was found near Sleaford in Lincolnshire and dates to the 15th century. On one side we can see the crucifixion. In the centre is the crucified Jesus, and on the left is his mother, Mary, who wears a long hooded cloak and looks forwards. On the right is John who stands sideways on towards Jesus. Below the cross are two letters or annulets. On the other side we can see the virgin Mary seated, holding the infant Jesus on her knee. Below Mary is a crescent moon, all of which is set against a background of diagonal lines. The scene showing Mary and Jesus above a crescent moon is often encountered in other religious objects and is thought to powerfully contrast the moon’s ever-changing aspect with the Mary’s steadfastness.
Pilgrim badges are fairly common finds in England; pilgrimage was an important part of religious life, and relics and shrines would attract travellers from far and wide. At most shrines were stalls selling souveniers such as badges and ampullae. These souveniers were not just proof of pilgrimage, but were also powerful artefacts that could protect or heal the wearer. This belief was part of everyday life in medieval England, and badges were made in their thousands to meet the demands of the faithful.
“It was principally through formal religious worship and confession (led by a priest) that individuals communicated with God. Another important route was through private prayer and offerings to saints. Saints, as holy beings, were the closest in physical terms to God, and therefore it was generally believed their relics (normally body parts, clothing or associated objects) not only provided a focus for prayer, but also held mystical powers that might be transferred from the relic to another object or being – a sort of divine contaminate that could be passed from object to object, object to being, being to being.”Michael Lewis. 2016 “Saints and their Badges. Saints’ lives and medieval pilgrim badges“. Witham: Greenlight.
Pilgrim badges showing religious scenes are common finds in England, and many show the crucifixion or the Virgin and child. However, I’ve only been able to find three other examples of this exact type. Curiously, all were also found in Lincolnshire. One comes from South Ferriby on the southern side of the Humber Estuary, one comes from Caistor on the Lincolnshire Wolds, and one comes from a site near Ruskington. Some of these are so similar that it is possible they came out of the same moulds. We don’t know where the shrine was that was producing these badges, and it might even be possible that they were bought from sellers directly rather than being associated with a particular shrine. Nonetheless, the concentration in Lincolnshire is interesting, especially with the majestic cathedral in Lincoln which is dedicated to Mary.
If you have found one of these, get it recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme and let’s see if the distribution pattern reveals more clues about their origin.