IOW-FBCDCB: Medieval Pilgrim Ampulla

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Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Awaiting validation Find awaiting validation

An incomplete Medieval lead alloy pilgrim ampulla (c. 1300-c. 1500).

This ampulla is sub-rectangular in plan. The rounded body has bevelled sides and the neck flares outwards slightly to the oblique ragged break at the mouth. One suspension loop is intact but bent and the other is missing due to breaks. Both faces of the body are decorated. One face has a raised shield containing an open cross and the other face has a raised star-like motif. The base is decorated with raised contiguous saltires.

The ampulla is buff and the body is flattened. The break at the top is old.

Length: 47.4mm; width: 30.8mm; thickness: 8.4mm. Weight: 35.87g.

Brian Spencer, formerly Senior Keeper at the Museum of London, who made a life-time study of ampullae, has written: '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.

Subsequent actions

Current location of find: Finder
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: 47.4 mm
Width: 30.8 mm
Thickness: 8.4 mm
Weight: 35.87 g

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Sunday 19th March 2017 - Sunday 19th March 2017

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Mr Frank Basford
Identified by: Mr Frank Basford

Other reference numbers

Other reference: IOW2017-2-47

Materials and construction

Primary material: Lead Alloy
Completeness: Incomplete

Spatial metadata

Region: South East (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Isle of Wight (Unitary Authority)
District: Isle of Wight (Unitary Authority)
To be known as: Isle of Wight

Spatial coordinates

Grid reference source: GPS (from the finder)
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
Current location: Finder
General landuse: Grassland, Heathland
Specific landuse: Regularly improved

References cited

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: IOW
Created: Monday 20th March 2017
Updated: Tuesday 21st March 2017

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