WMID-6D02A1: Medieval: Incomplete ampulla

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Unique ID: WMID-6D02A1

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

An incomplete lead or lead alloy ampulla, of Medieval dating (AD 1300 to AD 1500).

Approximately 50% of the ampulla is present, consisting of the lower half of the vessel. The top of the vessel is missing, presumed lost in antiquity.

In plan, it has a sub-circular base and the sides of the neck (now misshapen) flare slightly towards the mouth which is ragged and incomplete. The loops are missing. At the convex front there is a raised scallop shell with six obvious flaring ribs. The reverse bears several faint diagonal lines but no obvious decoration is present.

It measures 32.12 mm in length, 32.70 mm wide and 8.64 mm thick. It weighs 23.8 g.

The ampulla is a light to mid grey colour, with an even surface patina. Abrasion, caused by movement whilst within the plough soil, has resulted in a loss of some of the original surface detail. Soil is still present inside the ampulla.

Ampullae were used as a flask to hold holy water, becoming a souvenir of a pilgrimage; they generally date to the late 12th to 15th centuries (Spencer, 1990, 57). The scallop design was the emblem of St. James the Greater from the 12th century, but became the generic symbol of pilgrimage itself, therefore representing all pilgrim saints and for all pilgrims (Spencer, 1990, 41). Ampullae are often found in rural areas which may reflect the folk practice such as burying the ampulla in fields to protect crops and livestock from illness (Spencer, 1990, 205).

Brian Spencer, formerly Senior Keeper at the Museum of London, who made a life-time study of ampullae, also noted that 'Ampullae or miniature phials were an important kind of souvenir. Generally flask-shaped, but with a narrow, flattish section, they were designed to contain a dose of the thaumaturgic water that was dispensed to pilgrims at many shrines and holy wells. Ampullae were made of tin or lead or tin-lead alloy and were provided with a pair of handles or loops so that they could be suspended from a cord or chain around the wearer's neck. Coming into use in the last quarter of the twelfth century, they were, in England, almost the only kind of pilgrim souvenir to be had during the thirteenth century. They were nevertheless available at a number of shrines, and thanks to returning pilgrims or to local entrepreneurs, probably featured as secondary relics in virtually every thirteenth-century English parish church. Until the early fourteenth century, ampullae took various forms, were frequently inscribed and usually bore representations of the cult-figure or relic that they were intended to commemorate......Ampullae could be comfortably kept on the person or easily hung up in the home, or suspended , for the benefit of livestock, in the stable or cow shed or on the beehive. Ampullae were often donated to the neighbourhood, to be hung in the parish church. Almost as a matter of course, churches throughout thirteenth-century England secured possession of Canterbury ampullae containing what was perhaps the most famous of all elixirs, the water of St Thomas, tinged with the martyr's miracle-working blood' (Spencer, B. 1990, 57-58).

Spencer, B. 1990. Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges. Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. Salibury.

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
Period from: MEDIEVAL
Period to: MEDIEVAL
Date from: Circa AD 1300
Date to: Circa AD 1500

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 32.12 mm
Width: 32.7 mm
Thickness: 8.64 mm
Weight: 23.8 g

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Sunday 7th April 2013

Personal details

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Materials and construction

Primary material: Lead Alloy
Completeness: Incomplete

Spatial metadata

Region: West Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Walsall (Metropolitan District)
District: Walsall (Metropolitan District)
Parish or ward: Aldridge Central and South (Metropolitan District Ward)

Spatial coordinates

4 Figure: SP0598
Four figure Latitude: 52.57979093
Four figure longitude: -1.92764491
1:25K map: SP0598
1:10K map: SP09NE
Grid reference source: From finder
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
Discovery circumstances: Found whilst searching with a metal detector

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: WMID
Created: 8 years ago
Updated: 8 years ago

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