A Gordian Knot: Notes on Chartres Pilgrim Badges

Pippin Michelli, Ph.D.
Peregrinations, Publication of the International Society for the Study of Pilgrimage Arts, Volume 1, Issue 2, July 2002, pp. 1-4

Chartres studies have recently been enriched by the realization that we know of some nine pilgrim badges certainly attributable to that center. If the reproduction coins on most of their backs can be identified and thus used to date the manufacture of the badge moulds, these badges will form a uniquely well established continuous record of cult management. Leaving the numismatic and chronological issues for later study, the present concern is to clarify the record about the badges that belonged to an antiquities dealer in Paris, Arthur Forgeais.

Because his daily route to work took him past the restoration works on the Seine bridges, Forgeais was able to acquire quantities of small antiquities as they were dredged from the riverbed. Significant parts of Forgeais' collection were acquired by the French State for the Cluny Museum and for the newly formed Musée Carnavalet. Included in the material for the Musée Carnavalet were four badges from Chartres that Forgeais had published during the 1860s (numbers 1, 2, 3, 4), and the entire acquisition was deposited temporarily in the library of the Hôtel de Ville. Tragically, revolutionary arsonists destroyed the building and its contents on 24th May 1871, and according to Adolphe Lecocq, Forgeais' badges were reduced to shapeless lumps.(1) The following year, Arthur Forgeais sold two further badges to Chartres, and these (numbers 5 and 6) are now in the Musée des Beaux Arts at Chartres.

The losses are compounded by historiographical confusion. Almost all bibliographical citations are incomplete or contain errors. Forgeais' three publications have such similar titles that scholars have been confused into conflating them, and this is probably the reason for the surprisingly inaccurate or missing page references. As a result of this confusion, it was believed until very recently that Forgeais had owned only two badges (numbers 1 and a conflated 5/6). A corrected bibliography is therefore essential and will be found at the end of this article.

As a further result of historiographical confusion, the two surviving badges in the Musée des Beaux Arts at Chartres have been known only through Rousseau's engraving published by Lecocq. But this engraving has a number of problems. Firstly, it seems to have been intended as a reconstruction rather than an illustration of a particular object. Thus it conflates the two badges, which were apparently produced from the same mould. One badge retains the flame-like motifs on the profile. The other has lost the flames but its reliefs have survived in better condition. The engraver has combined the two to produce an informative reconstruction, and although this was indicated by Lecocq, later researchers have overlooked it. Delaporte published a photograph of badge #5, but he either did not know or did not think it worth mentioning that it was one of two almost identical badges. Moreover, the photograph itself failed to alert scholars to the problem because its only difference from the engraving was the poor quality of its relief: a fact that seems to have driven scholars back to the engraving with its greater apparent clarity.(2)

But such "reconstruction" is a fairly common feature of Victorian archaeological illustration (and of Victorian conservation generally). It is often betrayed by the easy availability of the "missing" material used by the artists, and it is easily recognized once the researcher has been alerted to it. Rather more worrying are the inaccuracies in detail that can only be known through comparison with the originals. For example, the coin on the backs of these two badges has a bezant at the bottom center that does not appear in the engraving. Without that bezant, the coin could not have been convincingly attributed and dated. Those on Forgeais' lost badges may never now be satisfactorily identified.

But all the engravings seem to have a different kind of accuracy that has also been overlooked. Victorian archaeological engravings were typically done to scale, as are Rousseau's engravings of the two badges in the Musée des Beaux Arts. Forgeais' lost badges seem to have been treated similarly: the reproduction deniers on the backs of the badges match the scale of actual Chartraine deniers to within a millimeter. Later reproductions of Forgeais' engravings have tended to enlarge them for clarity and thus deprived them of their most reliable documentary value. To rectify this, the engravings are reproduced at their original scale here.

Altogether, this article presents six badges once owned by Arthur Forgeais, including four that were destroyed and two that have long been conflated. By reproducing the engravings at their original scale, and by presenting the bibliography for each badge in chronological order of publication, I hope to restore the value of the surviving information about them. The need for an these measures is especially strong in America, where Forgeais' publications are difficult to find and Lecocq's essential contribution is almost completely unavailable. Although I have not addressed the dates of the badges, annotations in the bibliography outline the development of currently accepted opinion. This is important because that opinion rests on little more than assumption and the coin evidence is likely to undermine it.

Pippin Michelli, Ph.D.


  1. Adolphe Lecocq, "Recherches sur les enseignes de pèlerinages et les chemisettes de Notre-Dame-de-Chartres", Mémoires de la Société archéologique d'Eure-et-Loir

  2. Yves Delaporte, Les Trois Notre-Dame de la cathédrale de Chartres, Chartres, 1955, 40

Corrected Bibliography

The bibliography is presented for each badge, and in order of publication.