Pilgrim Badges

Introduction

As souvenirs, proofs of pilgrimages and to evoke (the protection of) saints, medieval pilgrims purchased metal badges at shrine sites which were then worn, typically on hats.  Other souvenirs included pendants, ampullae, bells and whistles.  Pilgrim badges were imbued with religious power via contact with holy relics at the shrine, turning them into more than souvenirs: they became talismans, or secondary relics.  Pilgrim badges were most commonly made from lead alloys (their composition is unknowable by sight and is often technically tin alloy), and, increasingly less commonly,from  copper alloy, and precious metal.  They could be attached by integral pins or sewn on via loops either on the reverse or set at the edge (the last is a common feature of continental and many Scottish pilgrim badges).

The PAS data provides a unique way of exploring devotion at a regional level, for example helping localise the site of a particular saint’s shrine where it is not known through mapping relevant badges (e.g. Lewis 2013), or assessing the sphere of influence of a known shrine (Egan 2010; The Digital Pilgrim Project; Kunera).  It can also act as a corrective to a traditional association of pilgrim badges with watercourses, perhaps based on an old focus on urban recovery (Egan 2010, 209).  The most useful aspect of a record, where possible, is to identify the cult to which the badge belonged, and the database will help with this, along with the main reference works.  The most popular cults had influence beyond a regional scale: Becket at Canterbury; St Barbara; the Virgin Mary at Walsingham.

PAS object type(s) to be used

Use PILGRIM BADGE.  This is to distinguish the corpus from secular and livery badges

Date

Major European shrines began producing metal badges in the second half of the 12th century (Spencer 1990, 8).  However, the badges we encounter from England mainly date from the early 14th century onwards (Egan 2010, 212; Lewis 2013, 280).  Pilgrimage ceased with the Reformation from the mid 16th century onwards.  Very few pilgrim badges can therefore be attributed to the post-medieval period as the Broad Period.  One example of a late form, dating from c. 1450 onwards, consists of a copper-alloy or silver bracteate like badge with embossed design (Spencer in Margeson 1993, 7); copper-alloy badges tend to date in general from the mid-15th century (Spencer 1998, 12).

Examples

Medieval to early post-medieval pilgrim badges: St George (top left, SOM-315A8C); St Barbara (bottom left, HAMP-B9815C); St Thomas Becket (centre, LON-104944); St Guilhem-le-Desert (top right, YORYM-F112E1); Virgin and child (bottom right, LON-4FC379). Copyrights: Somerset County Council; Hampshire Cultural Trust; Museum of London; York Museums Trust; CC-BY licence)
Medieval to early post-medieval pilgrim badges: St George (top left, SOM-315A8C); St Barbara (bottom left, HAMP-B9815C); St Thomas Becket (centre, LON-104944); St Guilhem-le-Desert (top right, YORYM-F112E1); Virgin and child (bottom right, LON-4FC379). Copyrights: Somerset County Council; Hampshire Cultural Trust; Museum of London; York Museums Trust; CC-BY licence)

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Key references

Spencer 1990

Spencer 1998

Lewis 2014