medieval badges

Sara's First Academic Conference!

Amy Jeffs (left) and Ann Marie Rasmussen (right) ponder a dilemma: do they have their medieval badges? And have they lost Sara?

Amy Jeffs (left) and Ann Marie Rasmussen (right) ponder a dilemma: do they have their medieval badges? And have they lost Sara?

Conferences are a unique time and place–a time to learn, a place to reconnect with old colleagues and to meet new ones. This month I went to my first academic conference, the 54th International Medieval Congress at West Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I was able to meet in person scholars I knew from reading and referencing their works as well as others I knew from social media. It was an amazing experience. I was star struck and so excited to engage with these scholars personally. The conference also proved to be an easy and convenient way to meet up with international colleagues to plan and organize research collaborations and trips.

A big decision when attending a big conference is deciding which sessions to attend.  I was shocked by the giant selection of options! The title of a session must capture the reader and the abstract must keep her engaged. Not only that; the session must win out over the dozens of other sessions held during the same time slot! Being a speaker must be quite intimidating for that reason alone. Luckily, I attended the Congress with a group of student peers. We dealt with this dilemma by splitting up to attend different sessions and then meeting up to share what we had learned. That way we could learn from as many sessions as possible. The conference was intense; you’re absorbing so much new information and ideas and hanging out with interesting people you would otherwise never get to meet.  

As I reflect on it, I see ways I could have better prepared. For example, I could have asked my professor for advice on how to scrutinize sessions better. Still, I learned a lot about the historical fields I want to pursue in my future MA studies. I learned a lot about history; about museum curation and badges; about how to look at and bring together multiple streams of scholarship; and how to be brave and admit you are wrong or simply don’t know. I learned about the instability of political images, and how badges were a perfect medium for those unstable political images because they were so easy to manufacture, being made of cheap tin-lead alloy, commonly referred to as pewter, and quick to melt down and set (if you want to see a video clip of the manufacturing process, click here). A medieval political badge, or any pewter badge, could be taken, melted down and poured into another mold in less than half an hour! Art historian Sonja Drimmer demonstrated that this is exactly what happened. Badges showed and made communities, but these communities were able to change symbols and allegiances at their own or other people’s whims. It is interesting what you learn at conferences. Sonja Drimmer used evidence drawn from medieval English chronicles and literature to prove her points instead of simply analysing the actual objects.

I learned a lot about my field of museum studies, but also much about other related and unrelated fields and all of it is useful. My biggest take-away is that good presentation skills really matter. If the speaker ran out of time and talked too fast or had too much written information on their power points slides, or rambled, their presentation was harder to understand, and the audience got distracted. One the other hand, giant beautiful photos and some well-timed jokes helped me pay attention.

All in all, academic conferences are well worth the time, effort, and money to attend!

What Happened at Our Lady of Walsingham?

You’re a small child, climbing about in the muck of a small quay in Norfolk. You spot something sticking out of the mud. After rinsing it off, you can tell it’s a small metal house with decorations on the front. What is this? Where did it come from? This fragmented, mid-fifteenth-century badge has survived being lost or discarded long ago and it still bears the image of an important, medieval pilgrim attraction: The Holy House of Walsingham.

Nearly a thousand years ago, legend has it that the Virgin Mary came to the wealthy widow Richelde Farvaques in a vision. She guided Richelde around the house in Nazareth where the angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary to inform her of her destiny as the Mother of God. In the vision, which occurred three times, Mary gave Richelde the exact dimensions of that house. Richelde then set out to construct a replica. Completed in 1061, the replica was referred to as The Holy House, and it contained a statue of the Mary holding the Christ child on her lap, which soon became surrounded by devotional offerings.

Lead Tin Alloy, Holy House with Mary and Child, Holy House of Walsingham, 1440-1459, found in the Purfleet Quay, 400 x 310 mm. King’s Lynn, Lynn Museum, PB 21 (Kunera 07412). Photo courtesy of Shannon Phaneuf.

Lead Tin Alloy, Holy House with Mary and Child, Holy House of Walsingham, 1440-1459, found in the Purfleet Quay, 400 x 310 mm. King’s Lynn, Lynn Museum, PB 21 (Kunera 07412). Photo courtesy of Shannon Phaneuf.

The combination of the replica house and the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Child generated an atmosphere of veneration and awe. It attracted visitors to the site from near and far, many taking home a badge looking much like the one found by our imagined modern child. Most Walsingham badges featured either an image of the statue or one of Mary with the angel Gabriel, usually in the Holy House.

The cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Lord, grew in popularity throughout medieval Europe from the twelfth century onward and the popularity of the Walsingham shrine kept pace. More and more people from all walks of life made the trek to Norfolk, even kings. It was said that King Richard I Lionheart was the first royal to go on pilgrimage to the shrine. Henry III increased the prestige of the site by making multiple pilgrimages to the shrine and showering it with gifts. It became a traditional place for English royalty to visit. Edward I returned dozens of times during the course of his reign, and Henry VIII also frequented this shrine during his first marriage to pray for a son.

The great humanist, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), commented in 1512 that Walsingham was “the most frequented place throughout all of England.” However, the shrine did not survive much longer. The misbehaviour of the canons entrusted with the site and the unfolding of the English Reformation resulted in a decrease in pilgrimage and at last in destruction of the Our Lady of Walsingham Shrine. On charges that false coins were being produced and alchemy being conducted, the site was destroyed in 1538 and the statue carried to London where it was set on fire.

Remains of Abbey Arch and the site of the Holy House of Nazareth in Walsingham, taken during modern pilgrimage. Photo courtesy of John Paul Meenan.

Remains of Abbey Arch and the site of the Holy House of Nazareth in Walsingham, taken during modern pilgrimage. Photo courtesy of John Paul Meenan.

Although the Holy House of Walsingham no longer exists, it is still garners attention! Christianity is a living faith and pilgrims still visit the site of the Holy House of Walsingham to this day. One such example is a pilgrimage which John Paul Meenan took part of, which can be read about at Catholic Insight.

Written by Shannon Phaneuf and Daphne Van Delst.

Bibliography

Hall, D.J. English Medieval Pilgrimage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1966).

Hopper, Sarah. To Be A Pilgrim: The Medieval Pilgrimage Experience (Phoenix: Sutton Publishing Limited, 2002).

Rubin, Miri. Mother of God. A History of the Virgin Mary (London: Alan Lane, 2009).

Spencer, Brian. Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2010).

Stephenson, Colin. Walsingham Way (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1970).

What is Popular (Religious) Culture in the 15th Century?

Westminster Abbey. Photo courtesy of Sara Fontes

Westminster Abbey. Photo courtesy of Sara Fontes

In 1420, the Vicar Richard Caistor of Saint Stephen’s died. Upon his death the locals wanted to make him a saint. Why did they want to honour him in this fashion? He was known to be a knowledgeable man who was pious and radical; perhaps he was also charismatic. For whatever reason, a cult sprang up around his tomb.

People went on pilgrimage to Saint Stephen’s and bought special souvenirs there. One version of the Caistor badges showed him preaching in a pulpit with a dove whispering into his right ear. Caistor is framed by a hexagonal scroll that is inscribed with the words ‘Mr Cast of Norwich’ and decorated with exterior crockets.  In June, 2018, I had the amazing opportunity to handle this badge up close and personal at Lynn Museum. It was fascinating to see and hold something that was so old and connected to the locale of  King’s Lynn.

Tin Lead Alloy, Richard Caister as priest standing in pulpit, Holy Ghost in shape of dove at one side of his head framed in pentagon shape scroll [MR CAST OF NORWICHE], Saint Stephen’s, 1420-1599, found in the Purfleet Quay, 400 x 400 mm. King’s Lynn, Lynn Museum, PB 86 (Kunera 07528). Photo courtesy of Sara Fontes.

Tin Lead Alloy, Richard Caister as priest standing in pulpit, Holy Ghost in shape of dove at one side of his head framed in pentagon shape scroll [MR CAST OF NORWICHE], Saint Stephen’s, 1420-1599, found in the Purfleet Quay, 400 x 400 mm. King’s Lynn, Lynn Museum, PB 86 (Kunera 07528). Photo courtesy of Sara Fontes.

At first, this badge aroused my curiosity because of the tiny dove whispering into Caistor’s ear. I wondered what the dove was inspiring him to talk about. The more I learned about the history behind this badge, the more it intrigued and puzzled me. Why did the locals want to make Caistor a saint of the Roman Catholic church? What made him so special? He was a local man, and popular enough to be chosen by the populace for sainthood. He is said to have been very devout; perhaps he inspired religious devotion in others. Another reason might have been to increase regional interest in the town and so increase trade and pilgrim visits. Why should another town benefit when King’s Lynn had such an amazing vicar? And yet, the bid to have Caistor made a saint failed. I wondered about that, too. This tiny object has quite a story to tell about popular religious culture in fifteenth-century England.

Written by Sara Fontes and Jana Köpcke.

Bibliography

Spencer, Brian. Medieval Pilgrim Badges from Norfolk (Hunstanton: Witley Press, 1980).

Tanner, N.P. The Church in Late Medieval Norwich, 1370-1532 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1984).

 Webb, Diana. Pilgrimage in Medieval England (London: A&C Black, 2000).

Is the dog man's best friend or his loyal retainer?

This badge shows the now extinct Talbot hound seated on its haunches. While similar badges bear the breed’s name or decoration on the collar, this dog is shown with a plain collar.

What is so special about this dog? For starters, it is thought that the Talbot is a reference to the Earls of Shrewsbury, whose coat of arms bore an image of this hunting dog. More evidence for the association between this baronial household and the image of the Talbot hound comes from a remark reportedly made by King Henry VI referring to John Talbot, the first Earl of Shrewsbury, as “oure good dogge,” words also used in a contemporary political poem.

Lead Tin Alloy, seated dog wearing collar, King’s Lynn, United Kingdom, 1000-1599, found in Purfleet Quay, 300 x 350 mm. King’s Lynn, Lynn Museum, BP 100 (Kunera 07573). Photo courtesy of Shannon Phaneuf.

Lead Tin Alloy, seated dog wearing collar, King’s Lynn, United Kingdom, 1000-1599, found in Purfleet Quay, 300 x 350 mm. King’s Lynn, Lynn Museum, BP 100 (Kunera 07573). Photo courtesy of Shannon Phaneuf.

The first Earl’s name and these references all strongly suggest that the image of the Talbot hound was used as a kind of shorthand reference for the household of the Earls of Shrewbury, and that the badge with this image was part of the household’s livery or distinguishing uniform that were worn by retainers and household staff. Medieval descriptions of dogs as a symbol of loyalty from Isidore of Seville and Gerald of Wales suggest how the Talbot badge may have been be received. The loyalty symbolised by the dog mirrors the loyalty established by feudal relationships, lord and master being one and the same just as the dog and retainer are one and the same. The extinction of the Talbot breed and line shows that even in death a dog is loyal to its master. He really is oure good dogge!

This badge was found in the King’s Lynn river alongside other medieval badges. It was uncovered in 1878 under Mr. Pung’s patronage and is now housed at the King's Lynn Museum.

Written by Moira Scully and Michelle Serrano-Sandoval.

Bibliography

Blick, Sarah. Beyond Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2007).

Pillars, A. J. John Talbot and the War in France 1427-1453  (London: Royal Historical Society, 1983).

The Veil of Veronica

““He had big bulging eyes, just like a hare.

He’d sewn a Vernicle on his cap.”

– A description of the Pardoner in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Tin Lead Alloy, Veronica Icon: countenance of Christ on a veil, surrounded by dots in round frame, Rome, 1000-1599, 310 x 400 mm. King’s Lynn, Lynn Museum, PB 49 (Kunera 07520). Photo courtesy of Shannon Phaneuf.

Tin Lead Alloy, Veronica Icon: countenance of Christ on a veil, surrounded by dots in round frame, Rome, 1000-1599, 310 x 400 mm. King’s Lynn, Lynn Museum, PB 49 (Kunera 07520). Photo courtesy of Shannon Phaneuf.

The vernicle was a popular badge which showed the Veronica: an image of Christ’s face on Saint Veronica’s veil.  One delicate, fifteenth-century vernicle was found around a hundred years ago in the muddy River Great Ouse in Norfolk, far away from Rome where it was made and sold to traveling pilgrims.  This vernicle was discovered by children, who had been hired by Thomas Pung in King’s Lynn to search the river for such finds.

St Veronica standing, holding the veil in front of her; a reversed copy after Marcantonio Engraving.  Photo courtesy of the British Museum 1869,0410.13, AN37921001

St Veronica standing, holding the veil in front of her; a reversed copy after Marcantonio Engraving. Photo courtesy of the British Museum
1869,0410.13,
AN37921001

Have you ever thought about why people traveled in the late Middle Ages? Besides trade and war, the most popular reason to go abroad was to undertake a pilgrimage. Just like travel today, pilgrimage, which promised spiritual rewards, was widespread among all social classes. Pilgrims would often buy small pewter and lead alloy badges at the holy sites they visited. These badges signified the completion of their journey and were a sign of devotion and commemoration.

The vernicle is a representation of the veil of Saint Veronica, a so-called contact relic (because it was believed to have been in contact with the living Christ) and symbol of a miracle. Legend held that the miracle happened when Saint Veronica used her veil to wipe the sweat and blood off Jesus’ face as he was walking to his crucifixion, leaving an imprint of his face permanently on the cloth. The shrine of the Veronica was one of Rome’s biggest pilgrim attractions in the Middle Ages. The first direct references to its existence are from the end of the twelfth century. At that time, it was hidden behind a curtain, away from the public. Pope Innocent III (b. 1161-d. 1216) brought it closer to the public by parading it through the streets on Fridays and feast days. Allowing pilgrims this access helped make Rome an ever more popular pilgrim destination. By the early seventeenth century, the Veil of Veronica had disappeared from public view. If it is still housed in Rome, it has very likely disintegrated. Textiles usually do not last more than two thousand years, although there are exceptions due to preservation conditions such as the Tarkhan Dress which is over 5,000 years old. Due to its frequent exposure in the Middle Ages most scholars believe that the Veronica is no longer extant.

Written by Sarah Johnston and Mackenzie Pritchard.

Bibliography

Birch, D. Pilgrimage to Rome in the Middle Ages (Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1998).

Clark, John. Medieval finds from the River Thames: Accidental Loss, Rubbish or Ritual?  Powerpoint presentation, (2017).

Hopper, Sarah. To Be a Pilgrim: The Medieval Pilgrimage Experience (London: Sutton Publishing Limited, 2002).

Rasmussen, Ann Marie. “Material Meanings: What a Medieval Badges Can Tell You about Translation in the Middle Ages.” In Un/Translatables: New Maps for German Literature edited by Catriona Macleod and Bethany Wiggin, 215–28 (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2016).

Weitbrecht, Julia, "The Vera Icon (or Veronica) in the Verse Legend Veronica II: Medialising Salvation in the Late Middle Ages,“ in Seminar: A Journal of Ger­ma­nic Studies 52, no.2 (2016): pp. 173-192.