NARC-206E62: Medieval pilgrim's ampulla, obverse

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Unique ID: NARC-206E62

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

A lead medieval pilgrim’s ampulla, in very good condition. The ampulla is of the familiar miniature phial shape, with a pair of handles for suspension. The ampulla is decorated on one side with a crown on a hatched background. The reverse has a crowned W, also on a hatched background. It is 31 mm wide and 49 mm high. The ampulla has been pinched together at the top to contain the thaumaturgic water dispensed to pilgrims at shrines and holy wells.
An identical example is illustrated in the Salisbury Museum Medieval Catalogue (Spencer 1990, page 89; fig 180) and another is known from Huntingdon (Spencer 1990, page 60). Other examples with the same combination of motifs are also known.
Ampullae with the crowned letter W are suggested as being associated with the cult of Our Lady of Walsingham (Spencer 1971, 63-64 in Spencer 1990, 60-61), and the crown is likely to be an emblem of the Virgin as Queen of Heaven. While it is likely that the crowned W is a reference to Walsingham, it has also been noted that it may have a more general meaning, such as a double V for Virgo Virginium, or an M for Maria when inverted (Spencer 1990, 61).
The shrine to a miraculous statue of the Virgin at Walsingham was one of the most significant sanctuaries in Europe from the 13th century until the 16th century. Indeed, during the 15th and early 16th centuries it eclipsed Canterbury as the principal English pilgrim resort (together with Windsor) (Spencer 1998, 135-137; Spencer 1990, 30-31).
Pilgrim's ampullae are difficult to date individually, but if this example does indeed relate to the Walsingham shrine, then it must date from the late 13th to early 16th century. Ampullae are generally regarded as dating to the later medieval period, from circa 1350 to 1530.

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder


Broad period: MEDIEVAL
Period from: MEDIEVAL
Date from: Circa AD 1275
Date to: Circa AD 1530

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 49 mm
Width: 31 mm
Thickness: 5 mm
Weight: 32 g

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Saturday 1st January 2005

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Dr Tom Brindle
Identified by: Dr Tom Brindle

Materials and construction

Primary material: Lead
Manufacture method: Cast

Spatial metadata

Region: East Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Northamptonshire (County)
District: South Northamptonshire (District)
Parish or ward: Blisworth (Civil Parish)

Spatial coordinates

4 Figure: SP7352
Four figure Latitude: 52.161455
Four figure longitude: -0.934233
1:25K map: SP7352
1:10K map: SP75SW
Grid reference source: From a paper map
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 100 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
General landuse: Cultivated land

References cited

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: NARC
Created: Wednesday 11th May 2005
Updated: Thursday 24th February 2011

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