LIN-1ADDAA: Ampulla - complete lead medieval ampulla

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
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Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Awaiting validation Find awaiting validation

A complete lead medieval ampulla dating to c. AD 1300-1500.

The object is hollow-cast in the form of a bag-shaped vessel with a slightly flared neck and opposed D-shaped handles set where the neck meets a slightly bulbous body. One side bears longitudinal fluting which is carried up across both body and neck, and which evokes the cockleshell sign of St James. The other side bears a letter R within a plain rounded panel with a double linear border. Above the letter is a possible Annunciation lily-pot or ragged staff. The ampulla has not been torn open and is complete.

Height: 49.44 mm, Width (handle to handle): 28.58mm, Thickness (overall): 10.02 mm, Weight: 54.39g


A similar ampulla with the notably 'R' recorded by Martin Foreman (North Lincs. FLO; NLM-E35714) was found in Owersby, Lincolnshire, Foreman discusses the possible significance of the lettering, noting that in Michael Lewis' (2014) catalogue of Saints and their Badges, other known figures with 'R' in their name include the Englishman Richard Caister, vicar of St Stephen’s Church, Norwich; and St Roche, a foreign saint invoked to aid against plague. Both were known from badges depicting the saints or their deeds, inter alia, rather than from initialled ampullae. 

The motif above the R might represent a lily, if so then the R perhaps stands for Our Lady of Reepham or Lady Richelde of Fervaques, the founder of the shrine at Walsingham, with the lily symbolising the Virgin's Purity (see for parallel NMS-EA60AD; Anderson 2010, 192, fig.3; Spencer 1980, 16, no. 39). A similar example was discovered in a grave at Thetford with the skeleton of a man who had suffered from a disease that has caused the disintegration of the hop-joint - presumably, he wore the badge in the hope of a miraculous cure (Spencer 1980, 16). There are similar examples at the British Museum, recorded as a representation of a lily (BM acc. no. 1862,0301.7). Alternatively, the design might represent the ragged staff associated with the badge of Richard Earl of Warwick, better known as the Kingmaker (1428-1471) (see for parallel NLM-E35714). Livery badges of Richard Earl of Warwick depict a bear with a ragged staff - and there is a very notable absence of a bear on this ampulla. In this case, it is more likely to refer to Lady Richelde or Our Lady of Reepham.

References cited

Anderson, W., 2010. Blessing the fields? A study of late-medieval ampullae from England and Wales. Medieval Archaeology54(1), pp.182-203.

Ashley, S. Medieval Ampulla, PAS no. NMS-EA60AD

British Museum: Medieval Ampulla from Dunwich (Suffolk). Webpage accessed 15.09.2021:  

Foreman, M. Medieval Ampulla, PAS no. NLM-E35714

Lewis, M., 2014. Saints and Their Badges: Saints' Lives and Medieval Pilgrims Badges. Green Light Publishing.

Spencer, B 1980. Medieval Pilgrim Badges from Norfolk, Hunstanton: Norfolk Museums Service

Find of note status

This is a find of note and has been designated: County / local importance

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder


Broad period: MEDIEVAL
Subperiod from: Late
Period from: MEDIEVAL
Subperiod to: Late
Period to: MEDIEVAL
Date from: Circa AD 1400
Date to: Circa AD 1530

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Height: 49.44 mm
Width: 28.58 mm
Thickness: 10.02 mm
Weight: 54.39 g

Personal details

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Materials and construction

Primary material: Lead
Manufacture method: Cast
Completeness: Complete

Spatial metadata

Region: East Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Lincolnshire (County)
District: East Lindsey (District)
Parish or ward: Wainfleet St. Mary (Civil Parish)

Spatial coordinates

4 Figure: TF4957
Four figure Latitude: 53.08942218
Four figure longitude: 0.22345937
1:25K map: TF4957
1:10K map: TF45NE
Grid reference source: From finder
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
General landuse: Cultivated land

References cited

Author Publication Year Title Publication Place Publisher Pages Reference
Anderson, W. 2010 Blessing the fields? A Study of Late-medieval Ampullae from England and Wales London Medieval Archaeology
Lewis, M. 2014 Saints and their badges: Saints' Lives and Medieval Pilgrim Badges Witham Greenlight
Spencer, B. 1980 Medieval Pilgrim Badges From Norfolk Norwich Norfolk Museums Service

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: LIN
Created: 11 months ago
Updated: 9 months ago

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