pilgrim

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.