Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Medieval Pilgrim Badges

From History Today:
It is no wonder that pilgrims, like the modern tourist, demanded souvenirs at their destination. At first, they simply took stones or shells from the locality, leading in some cases to the erosion of shrines. It is likely that phials and badges were produced both to boost revenues and to limit this kind of damage. Between the 12th and the 16th centuries they were sold in their thousands at famous destinations including Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela, Rome and Canterbury, as well more locally known locations including Willesden, now subsumed by London, and Wilsnac in the Low Countries. The cult of saints affected everyone in medieval Europe and a voracious souvenir market was one of its consequences.

It would be anachronistic to claim too precise a parallel between contemporary tourist souvenirs and medieval pilgrim badges. They must frequently have served a devotional purpose their modern counterparts do not. However, comparing the two can helpfully dramatise a medieval artifact to which time has not been kind. Nowadays, the overwhelming majority of pilgrim souvenirs and secular badges are dark grey and fragmentary, but this was not originally the case. They were, in fact, sparkling, even colourful, objects, carefully designed to appeal to the pilgrim and advertise the shrine.

What parallels can be safely drawn between the medieval pilgrim souvenir and contemporary tourist paraphernalia? Affordable material is one. The use of lead alloy was important; though cheap, it lends itself to thin casting and detailed low-relief imagery, allowing for the production of delicate, objects bearing legible pictures. Additionally, it is silver-bright when fresh from the mould. Lead alloy pilgrim souvenirs were affordable for the majority of medieval people, who often collected a range of pilgrim souvenirs over a lifetime. (Read more.)

No comments: