This, and a further blog post to follow, is about those mementoes that can be considered a record of a pilgrim’s progress and are often found by UK detectorists – the Pilgrim Badge. In the Middle Ages the Church encouraged people to make pilgrimages to special holy places called shrines.
Within every pilgrim was an element of worldly tourist and badges were essentially religious souvenirs. They were worn on either the hat or cloak and collected as mementoes of the shrines visited. They were so popular that tens of thousands were collected every year – after a long arduous journey to reach their destination it’s only natural people wanted something to commemorate, and prove, they had actually visited Becket’s tomb! Today, as proof of a visit, they would probably take a ‘selfie’.
Badges were fashioned out of tin, lead or pewter by enterprising monks and sold to pilgrims. Having the concessions at the two most popular pilgrimage destinations in the country, Canterbury or Walsingham, must have been worth a lot of money and a profitable sideline for the tonsured entrepreneurs. Alas, this all came to an abrupt end at the Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII when he decided that the shrines should be closed down and the wealth that they had created given to the crown. Those few monks who resisted the change were summarily executed.
Probably the most important pilgrimage that could be made in England in the 13th century was to Canterbury Cathedral to see the shrine of Thomas Becket and it can be assumed that badges were produced in massive quantities. Indeed, hundreds of thousands must have been sold each year. Therefore, one might expect that if a detectorist found a badge, it would most likely have come from Canterbury. However, I can only find a couple of examples on the UKDFD and then it is only a fragment of what was perhaps the most popular representation – the ‘Bust of Becket.’
Notice that the mitre has broken off leaving just its jeweled base. Part of the bust below the head is also missing. Look at another example. This time the integral pin on the reverse is intact.
It is likely that the head is from a bust, the lower half of which has been lost and would originally have probably looked like the example below.
The example below shows a replica pilgrim’s badge being sold today at the Canterbury Cathedral Souvenir Shop.
The practice of pilgrimage, worship of relics and the belief in miracles appealed to medieval people as they thought it was one of the principle roads to salvation. It was believed that if you prayed at these shrines you might be forgiven for your sins and thus have more chance of going to heaven. Others made the journey hoping to be cured from an illness from which they were suffering.
The Museum of London holds the best collection of tokens associated with Saint Thomas Becket as they were often ritually thrown into the river Thames at the end of a pilgrimage.
Check out my earlier post TO BE A PILGRIM
and HERE on the ampulla or click on the images below