HESH-B02B8F: Medieval seal matrix (front, reverse)

Rights Holder: Birmingham Museums Trust
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Rights Holder: Birmingham Museums Trust
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SEAL MATRIX

Unique ID: HESH-B02B8F

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

Treasure Case 2015 T975: Specialist Report for HM Coroner

Seal Matrix from Telford West - Shropshire

Date: Medieval - 14th Century

Date of discovery: November 2015

Circumstances of discovery: Found whilst metal detecting

Description:

A complete cast silver 'vesica' shaped seal matrix. The seal matrix is sub-oval (oval with pointed ends) in plan and sub-rectangular in cross section. On the reverse face of the matrix is a cast vertical rib, the upper part projects as an oval tab and would have acted as a handle. The tab is pierced for suspension. Below the loop is a raised transverse bar; there is no further decoration on the reverse face.

The design on the front face of the matrix consists of a central motif with an inscription reading anti-clockwise (clockwise in the impression) around the edge.

The central motif depicts a shrine of The Nursing Madonna and Child with a cleric in an act of prayer at its base. The Madonna is stood facing left (right in the impression), cupping her bare breast and presenting it to the Christ child. She is hooded / veiled and is garbed in a tradition full length robe with a sash tied around her waist. The Christ child is in profile and is being held in the Madonna's left hand (right in the impression) and is looking into the face of the Madonna while reaching out for the exposed breast. The Madonna is standing and holding the Christ child beneath a gothic arch (or possibly a Rood Screen?), with two outer columns supporting a roof which is topped with carved decorations. The upper apex of the arch and the tops of the columns are augmented with trefoils formed of angular lines. The cleric is depicted facing left (right in the impression) with his head tilted upwards as if looking towards the shrine. His hands are closed in prayer. His hair is cut in the tradition tonsure style and he wears a hooded vestment. He is stood / kneeling (only his top half is shown) in a trefoil shaped arch with two Romanesque windows positioned on either side. The 'church' walls into which the windows are set are textured with irregular diagonal hachuring.

The central design is contained within a beaded incised border - the shape of which echoes the exterior edge. The border is broken in several places, by the decorated top of the 'shrine' and by the supplicant cleric. A similar border is present on the outer / exterior edge; this forms two circumferential panels into which the inscription is cut. The inscription is formed from well formed, neat letters, it reads:

SECRETV ROG' D' VENLOKE AVE GRA PL'NA

The letters are all in Roman script with serif terminals. The S is serpentine with a thickened waste, the E and C both have rounded backs and are closed. In places elements of the inscription are ligated EN on Venloke. and the upper part of the K is looped making it seem like an R. The abbreviated elements are indicated with large curved comma like apostrophes, which cut the outer beaded border.

The seal is a dark grey matt silver colour with an even surface patina.

Dimensions:

The seal matrix measures 32mm in height, 21mm in diameter, 2mm in thickness (excluding the loop and raised transverse bar) and 8mm (including the loop and raised transverse bar). The seal matrix weighs 9.28 grams.

Discussion and Dating:

The decoration is well cut and the inscription is evenly spaced; further, the style of decoration is small, crisp, well-proportioned and very detailed. All these factors, along with the material (silver) from which it is made suggests the seal was produced for someone of influence and potentially of relatively high standing within the society, possibly due to his association with a prosperous diocese or medieval court..

The seal's inscription can be interpreted as: Secretum Roger de Venloke Ave Gratia Plena. This can be translated as Secret (or counter seal) of Roger of Venloke - which could be Much Wenlock or Little Wenlock - both in the county of Shropshire (less than 5 miles from the findspot). Investigations are currently being undertaken to archival references to either the person or seal. The later park of the inscription Ave Gratia Plena is a standard medieval prayer / catechism to the Virgin Mary - Ave Maria Gratia Plena (Hail Mary, Full of Grace).

This type of seal matrix would have acted as a personal seal for the closing of letters / correspondence. The form is well known from other discoveries and is securely dated to the late thirteenth to early fourteenth century. Similar examples of 'vesica' shaped seal matrices have been reported from Howden, Yorkshire (Barton, Geake and Robinson 2008), Little Ouseburn, Yorkshire (Downes and Robinson 2012), Sustead, Norfolk (Darch and Rogerson 2012), and West Acre, Norfolk (__2010).

Saxon (2006, pp. 205-207) suggests that the symbolism of the Nursing Madonna refers to the belief that breastmilk, in the medieval period, was seen as "processed blood". The milk of the Madonna is therefore, to a certain degree, a parallel of the Blood of Christ.

Metal Content:

I believe that the precious metal content (silver) of the seal matrix fulfils the requirements of the Treasure Act 1996 in that it is greater than 10%.

References:

Barton, C., Geake, H. and Robinson, J. 2008: PAS-2A3EE5: A silver medieval seal from Howden Yorkshire. https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/215138

Darch, E. and Rogerson, A. 2012: NMS-DFA0E5: A silver medieval seal from Sustead, Norfolk. https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/519900

Downes, A. and Robinson, J. 2012: SWYOR-294C25: A silver medieval seal from Little Ouseburn, Yorkshire. https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/484739

Saxon, E. 2006. The Eucharist in Romanesque France: Iconography and Theology Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press.

__, 2010: NMS-F2C530: A silver medieval seal from West Acre, Norfolk. https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/399185

Authors

James North - Lead Volunteer - Shropshire - Portable Antiquities Scheme

Peter Reavill - Finds Liaison Officer - Portable Antiquities Scheme

John Cherry - British Museum

January 2016

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

May 2018:

This record has been updated with a new preferred interpretation of the inscription. Sincere thanks are extended to Kris Didden (Antwerp City Archives: Belgium) for his help and input this important Shropshire find

Peter Reavill

Find of note status

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

Inscription: SECRETV ROG' D' VENLOKE AVE GRA PL'NA

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Submitted for consideration as Treasure

Treasure details

Treasure case tracking number: 2015T975

Chronology

Broad period: MEDIEVAL
Period from: MEDIEVAL
Period to: MEDIEVAL
Date from: Circa AD 1250
Date to: Circa AD 1400

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Height: 32 mm
Thickness: 2 mm
Weight: 9.28 g
Diameter: 21 mm

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Saturday 21st November 2015

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Mr James North
Identified by: Mr James North
Secondary identifier: Mr Peter Reavill

Other reference numbers

Treasure case number: 2015T975

Materials and construction

Primary material: Silver
Completeness: Complete

Spatial metadata

Region: West Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Telford and Wrekin (Unitary Authority)
District: Telford and Wrekin (Unitary Authority)
To be known as: Telford - West

Spatial coordinates


Grid reference source: From finder
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 10 metre square.

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: HESH
Created: 3 years ago
Updated: 7 months ago

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