Pilgrimmage was an integral part of spiritual life in the Middle Ages. By making the journey, often long and arduous, to holy places such as the shrines of saints, medieval people hoped to be forgiven their sins, to be healed of illness, and to come closer to the divine. It was also one of the few opportunities for travel available to ordinary people, and the revenue derived from pilgrims was an important source of income for the churches and religious houses that played host to them. Of the many goods available to pilgrims at their destinations, the pilgrim badge was one of the most abundant and popular. These small lead or pewter badges were worn as an outward sign of devotion and a personal reminder of connection with the saint or holy place visited.
|Medieval illustrations identify pilgrims with a particular garb: tall staff, broad-brimmed hat, long coat, ‘scrip’ (a side-bag of cloth or leather) and that most important symbol – the scallop shell. Badges are often shown worn in the hat. |
Tintern Abbey, on the river Wye in Monmouthshire, was one of the great Cistercian houses of medieval Wales, and an important center of pilgrimmage. Pilgrims travelled here to visit the “chapel without the west door” of the Abbey, where was to be found a miraculous image of Mary the Virgin. Tintern was dissolved in 1536, but fragments of a statue of the Madonna and Child survived and, in 2007, a new statue was carved for the Abbey, inspired by the original. As part of the celebrations around the dedication of the new statue, Wythe Retinue were invited to put on a living history event in the Abbey ruins, and re-enact the arrival of a medieval pilgrimmage at the beginning of the dedication ceremony.
This was a special event for us, and to mark the occasion we commissioned a set of reproduction pilgrim badges which many of us continue to wear as part of our costume. A stone mould was carved by hand, into which moulten pewter is poured to make the badges.
|At Tintern Abbey. Pilgrimmage was as important for the wealthy as for the everyman, and the black clothing shows this man's affluence. |
In the traditional process of making a religious statue, the stone block is blessed before carving begins. This means that the stone chips cut away during carving are holy, and relics such as these were carried by medieval people, to act both as a charm and a focus of devotion. We have some of the chips from the new Tintern statue, so visitors to our events can see a ‘real’ relic in the medieval tradition and learn about medieval spiritual life.
The pilgrim badges and stone chips can now be purchased from the Friends of Our Lady of Tintern, and from the shop at Tintern Abbey.