[FROM: Diana Webb, Pilgrims and Pilgrimage in the Medieval West. London: I.B. Taurus Publishers, 1999. The International Library of Historical Studies, no12. ISBN: 1-86064-079-6] © Diana Webb, 1999.


Chapter 5: Remembering Pilgrimage: Souvenirs

“People bring a cross back from Jerusalem, a Mary cast in lead from Rocamadour, a leaden shell from St James; now God has given St Thomas this phial, which is loved and honoured all over the world, to save souls; in water and in phials he has the martyr's blood taken all over the world, to cure the sick. It is doubly honoured, for health and as a sign.’[1]

This passage from Garnier's French Life of St Thomas Becket bears witness to a new development in twelfth-century pilgrimage, which reflects the economic development of western society. It was the making and marketing of such souvenirs in the west which was new; it had a long history in the Byzantine east.[2] Naturally occurring objects might also serve, for example the palms which were blessed and distributed at the Palm Sunday services in Jerusalem and became treasured mementoes. Beatrice tells Dante to commit to memory what she is telling him as pilgrims bind palm about their staffs in remembrance of their pilgrimage (Purgatorio XXXIII, 76-8). The scallop-shell emblem of Compostela too began its career as a natural object which came to be identified with the shrine and which some enterprising craftsman or entrepreneur must have seen the possibilities of reproducing in tin or pewter. The earliest reference to the marketing of pilgrim 'signs' in the west occurs in the description in the Pilgrim's Guide of the stalls in the plaza before the church of St James, where they were sold, together with a lot of other useful items. The words cruscille piscium suggest that these were natural shells.[3] Towards the end of her life St Bona of Pisa (d. 1207), a passionate devotee of St James, was transported by the saint himself on a last pilgrimage to Compostela; bringing her back by the same [p.125] miraculous means, he was careful to supply her with 'those things, which pilgrims are accustomed to bring back from St James of Galicia'.[4] We are not told whether these were natural or man-made shells, but by this time, on Garnier's evidence, they were clearly being reproduced in metal. Innocent III’s letter conceding to the chapter of St Peter's the rights over the production and sale of badges of Sts Peter and Paul that, he said, the popes themselves had hitherto enjoyed, suggests a similar time-scale [2,a]. Gerald of Wales tells how, after a visit to Canterbury, he went to Southwark to wait upon the bishop of Winchester, who recognised by the signacula hung from the necks of Gerald's companions where they had been.[5]

As Garnier implies, these objects were more than just souvenirs. Like the Holy Land ampullae of an earlier age, the Becket ampullae were made to contain a miraculous, or at least potentially miraculous, substance. Count Boso of Aosta was cured of a quartan fever when he drank a little Becket water from the ampullae that were being brought back through that region (a well-trodden pilgrim thoroughfare) by pilgrims.[6] 'Souvenirs' made in other forms were also believed to carry with them the wonder-working properties of the shrine from which they originated. One of the miracle stories collected at Rocamadour in the twelfth century related how a priest of Chartres, who was grievously sick, was cured when his mother placed upon his body a signum peregrinationis, invoking as she did so the Virgin of Rocamadour.[7] In this respect, medals and ampullae resembled the 'relics' of an earlier age, which included any object which formed part of or had been in contact with the shrine.

Signa also identified the pilgrim, as the crusader's cross had identified him and as the pilgrim's garb and staff had in a general way already done for centuries. Perhaps the best-known testimony to the identificatory function of pilgrim 'signs' is a satirical one, the description in The Vision of Piers Plowman of the pilgrim who had never heard of a saint called Truth: 'on his hat were perched a hundred tiny phials, as well as tokens of shells from Galicia, cross-ornaments on his cloak, a model of the keys of Rome and on his breast a vernicle.’[8] The scallop-shell came to be emblematic of pilgrimage in general, as well as of Santiago in particular. A pilgrim was buried in Worcester Cathedral, probably in the late fifteenth century, with a cockle-shell (superficially similar to the scallop in general aspect though smaller and more concave), which was pierced for attachment by a thong to a staff (a fine ash staff was also found in the grave).[9] It is not clear whether this was intended to indicate [p.126] that the dead man had been to Compostela, or simply that he had been a pilgrim. The manufactured scallop-shell, like other badges, absolved the pilgrim from the need to drill holes for attachment by providing loops for sewing as part of what was often, though not always, an openwork structure. There was regional variation in styles of manufacture: English makers favoured a brooch style, with a pin cast as an integral part of the badge, whereas in southern Europe the predilection was for 'a solid, medallic form of badge'.[10]

 In our own time these technical aspects of the trade have attracted an increasing quantity of scholarly attention. A miracle story of St Thomas Becket vividly evokes the manufacturing process [Document 1, below], but it was not this aspect that most interested contemporaries. The documentation largely concerns the legal rights that were claimed and contested by different parties who wished to control or to have some share in a profitable business. Monopolies were often claimed by the authorities of the church where the cult was located, who were, however, often dependent on lay craftsmen actually to produce the objects. There was potential here for conflict, especially if the clergy attempted to obtain a monopoly of what had first been, or had become, an unregulated trade. In some places the result was a modest chapter in the history of conflict between ecclesiastical institutions and the urban societies which so frequently grew up around them and serviced them. At Le Puy legal process, excommunication and the threat of excommunication were periodically deployed in a battle which continued into the fifteenth century. Here, it seems to have been believed that the signum had to be touched by a priest to the altar of the shrine to acquire its virtue, and the refusal to do this became a weapon in the hands of the clergy. At Le Puy as elsewhere, souvenirs of different designs and materials were sold, which complicated the argument over rights and privileges, while the right to manufacture and the right to sell could in principle be distinct issues.'[11]

 At Rocamadour, Elie de Ventadour got himself elected abbot on the death of his uncle, Abbot Bernard VI, in 1235 and proceeded to despoil the possessions of the monastery, inter alia conferring on the townsfolk the right 'of selling to passing pilgrims the emblems which they call Carcanelli', as Gregory IX complained in a letter to the archbishop of Lyon on 20th October 1237. In the fourteenth century, the bishop of Tulle evidently had some control over sales, at least in so far as he licensed the stalls which stood in the significantly named 'platea del Senhals'. Rocamadour badges were used as a sort of passport during the Anglo-French wars, and it may be that this added [p.127] to the value of the trade in the early fifteenth century, when we again hear of conflict over rights of sale and manufacture. In 1423 Jean de Valon compounded his alleged right to manufacture badges for an annual payment of 8 livres tournois and 100 signes sive sethales which he could have either in cash or kind. He was not the only one in the hunt, however. and in 1425 the bishop conceded to the inhabitants of Rocamadour the right to sell badges of all kinds, for a period of two years only: thereafter he would regain his monopoly of the sale of those which bore the image of St Amadour. Meanwhile Jean de Valon's heirs did not let the matter rest, and in 1488,at a hearing before the seneschal, Antoine de Valon won recognition of X his entitlement (which he had possessed 'from all time') to half of the entire sale of 'signs of lead or pewter on which the image and figure of the glorious Virgin Mary is imprinted'.[12]

 If by all accounts the battle to retain control of the traffic in pilgrim signs at Compostela, Rocamadour and Le Puy was ongoing or at least intermittent, the Dominicans who in 1295 were installed in the church of St Maximin in Provence, where the relics of the Magdalen had been rediscovered in 1279, seem to have had no better before the Black Death. The king and queen of Naples, reaffirming their monopoly in 1354, said that they had enjoyed it undisturbed for forty-three years, but precisely which period of forty-three years is not made entirely clear [3]. Nor is it explained exactly how the plague had affected the issue: had mortality among the Dominicans led to a breakdown of their authority over the local community, or had pilgrimage so increased that the prospects for profit became irresistible to the laity? No one on the production side of the business would have benefited from the sort of pilgrim behavior described by a continuator of Chaucer, who imagined the Miller and the Parconer shoplifting Canterbury tokens, presumably with a view to resale[13] At the end of the fourteenth century, the problem of the badge-makers of Mont-St-Michel was not that any higher authority was trying to stop them working, but (so they said) that the living they made was so poor that they could not afford to pay the tax on sales [4].

 Finds of pilgrim souvenirs all over Europe have helped to amplify the picture of pilgrimage given by written sources. In Scandinavia, for example, they give an independent, if necessarily rough, impr6sion of the relative popularity of shrines. Santiago is in an overwhelming lead with more finds (125) than all other destinations, Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian, put together, and is followed at some considerable distance by Vadstena (37) Trondheim (21) and Kliplev (4) in [p.128]

Scandinavia, Maastricht (15.), Cologne (13), Thann (12) and Rome and Einsiedeln (11 apiece) from outside Scandinavia. Aachen, which to judge by written evidence ranked only after Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago as the most popular of destinations for Scandinavian pilgrims, musters only three souvenirs altogether. Furthermore, the finds 'testify to pilgrim journeys to places which do not appear in the written sources: Thann, Neuss, Königslutter, Marburg, Elende, Fritzlar, Trier, Düren, Niedermünster and Eichstatt in the German-speaking world, Tours, Noblat and Paris in France, as well as Lucca in Italy.' As to finds in pilgrim graves, Krötzl points out that only one such Scandinavian find originated from a Scandinavian shrine, this suggesting that considerations of the prestige attached to a long-distance pilgrimage influenced the decision to bury a token with a pilgrim.[14]

Pilgrim souvenirs have been found buried with their owners in many parts of Europe,[15] but otherwise the survival of objects which were not very durable, and were made of materials that could readily be melted down, was very much a matter of chance. It is all the more striking then that some of those that have survived bear witness to obscure local and ephemeral cults, like that of John Schorn, rector of North Marston, Buckinghamshire, who died in 1314 and was remembered for having conjured the devil into a boot, an achievement commemorated in the badges made in honour of him.'[16] Some souvenirs were made of even less durable materials than tin or pewter. The 'Veronica' of Rome, the veil supposed to be miraculously imprinted with the face of Christ, was reproduced not only as a badge, but as a small cloth replica, which of course could easily be sewn on to a hat or other garment. New methods of reproducing images opened up further possibilities: a cache of devotional objects found in the choir of the monastery of Wienhausen included a sheet of eight woodcuts of the Veronica, not yet cut up.[17]

We are here on the borders of a neighbouring territory, of the (almost) mass-reproduced devotional object which could promote a cult even among people who had never been, and would never go, to its fountainhead. Indulgences were available for the devout saying of prayers, which might accompany gazing upon an image, perhaps (as in the case of the Veronica) a 'reproduction' of a holy original. The pilgrim badge, and other souvenirs, had always of course had this potential, for they could easily be given or requested as gifts and left as heirlooms. Pilgrimage generated vicarious participation by a variety of means.



1. A Becket miracle
A certain Augustine, a citizen of London, skilled in the arts of the founder, was melting down old ampullae so that he could make new ones from the old, to be devoted to the sacred ministry and the divine cult. He added one of the vessels of the new martyr, which people carry about. When everything was liquefying, one ampulla was seen to be floating in the melted tin. The founder, marvelling, took his tongs and pressed the unmelted tin into the liquid. But it did not entirely yield to the heat, retaining a degree of solidity. Marvelling, at what he saw, he reasoned that the furnace was ineffective because it was not hot enough, and built up the kindling under the vessel, but he could not overcome the firmness of the metal. Wherefore, investigating the causes of the phenomenon, he realised that something of the body of the holy martyr had infused the container, which conferred strength upon it and repelled the assaults of combustion.[18] [Materials, pp. 464-5.]

2. Two letters of Innocent III concerning pilgrim badges
(a) 1199, January 18th:

The pope to H[ugolino] archpriest and the canons of St Peter's. [The Pope explains that his many preoccupations make it impossible for him to give the basilica of the apostles the care and attention it requires. Recognising that the responsibility for the beauty and upkeep of churches depends above all on those who serve them, he is making a small gift to the canons, hoping that it will prove acceptable to Him who accepted the widow's mite.] Wherefore, beloved sons in the Lord, we are by the authority of these presents conceding to you and through you to your canons, and fortifying the grant with the protection of this writing, both the proceeds from the emblems of lead or tin (de signis plumbeis sive stagneis), bearing the image of the apostles Peter and Paul, with which those who visit their shrines distinguish themselves, as evidence of their devotion and proof of their completed journey (se ipsos insigniunt in argumentum propre devotionis et testimonium itineris consummati se ipsos insigniunt), which our predecessors and we ourselves have been accustomed to receive, and the right (auctoritatem) to manufacture them or to grant it to those founders whom you choose, who will be responsible to [p.130] you alone in these matters. [Die Register Innocenz III, ed. O. Hageneder 1, n. 534, pp. 772-3.]

(b) 1207, June 19th: To the bishops of Spain and Gascony
It has come to our apostolic attention that certain people, located in Spain and Gascony, are not afraid to strike bogus emblems of St James, which are called shells (adulterina insignia beati Jacobi, quae conchae dicuntur ... cudere), to the peril of their souls. Wishing therefore that such presumption should be restrained by the prudent action of your discretion, we command and direct your fraternity by written apostolic instruction that by our authority you take care strictly to restrain everyone dwelling throughout your provinces, on pain of excommunication, from striking such bogus emblems, which tends to the peril of their own souls. [PL 215, col. 1176.]

3. Charter of Louis and Joanna of Naples in favour of the prior and convent of the church of St Mary Magdalen [St Maximin]: 1354, April 29th
... for a long time past it has been the custom, firmly observed, that no one of whatever condition in the said territory of St Maximin should presume to make the leaden images, carved with the image of the said St Mary, which are given [sic] to pilgrims for the devotion of that saint, unless by the special licence and mandate of the prior and convent, and on provision of the moulds and other necessary materials (datisferris et aliis opportunis), to those having such licence, by the sacristan of the said church. Continuously, for the past forty-three years, the prior and convent have been in peaceful possession of [the right of] granting this licence to the makers of such images and providing the moulds and other necessary materials. However, several people of the aforesaid territory, or living therein, from the time of the general mortality last past, having no qualms about disturbing the church in this matter, have on their own authority and without the licence and mandate of the prior and convent been making the aforesaid leaden images and selling them to pilgrims; thus audaciously contravening the ancient and observed custom aforesaid, to the injury of the law and the prejudice and detriment of the aforesaid church. [Faillon, 2, col. 964.]

4. Letter of Charles VI of France: 1393, February 15th
We have heard the petition of the poor people living at Mont Saint Michel, making and selling signs of Monseigneur St Michel, shells and horns which are called quiencaillene, and other work in lead and pewter, cast in moulds, because of the pilgrims who flock there: containing, in order to gain their poor livelihood they are accustomed to sell the said signs and others things above-mentioned to the said pilgrims coming on pilgrimage to the said Mont St Michel, and they have no other means of living and know no other trade; which trade is so small, that they have to sell for farthings (mailles) and pennies to the pilgrims who come on the said pilgrimage, and in such small quantities that the said petitioners can hardly make a living in the said place of Mont St Michel; also that no grain grows there nor other things which would help to support them, so that they buy at a high price the water with which they work and everything else that they need for their support; the said suppliants being compelled from day to day to pay the tax on the said signs and other things above-mentioned, wherefore they are so burdened that they have nothing to live on; and the suppliants, or some of them, are on the point of leaving the said town and going elsewhere to seek a living, because several of them know no other trade from which they can live; whereby the said pilgrimage to Mont St Michel would be damaged and the devotion of the pilgrims diminished, for these pilgrims, for the honour and reverence of Monsieur St Michel, take great pleasure in having the said signs and other things above-mentioned to take back to their own countries in honour and remembrance of St Michael, as the petitioners say; humbly beseeching that in our joyous visit to the said place of Mont St Michel it should please us to extend our grace to them in the said matter. Wherefore we have given consideration to the matters above stated, and because of the singular and especial devotion which we have to the said Monsieur St Michel and also because of our joyous visit to the said place, we decree by these presents to the petitioners out of knowledge, special favour, and full royal power and authority, that they and their successors, marketing, making and selling the said signs or other things above-mentioned, shall be free, quit and exempt in perpetuity from payment of the said tax of twelve pence in the pound on the sale of the said signs…[19] [Ordonnances des Rois de France de la Troisième Race, 7 (Paris 1745) pp. 590-l.]

5. Souvenir-hunters: c.1400
And here they are, arrived at Le Puy in the Auvergne, not without difficulty, and they make their pilgrim devotions. God knows how crushed and pushed about the poor husband is in the middle of the crowd in order to get his wife through! Here she is, giving him her girdle and her beads so that he can touch the relics and the venerated statue of Our Lady with them. God knows that he is well jostled, that he gets some good elbowing and is nicely buffeted! Furthermore, there are among the women there with them some rich ladies, maidens and bourgeoises who are buying beads of coral, jade or amber, and rings and other jewels. So his wife must have them like the others; sometimes, there's no more money, but nevertheless, he's got to get them. [Le Quinze Joies di Marriage, ed. J. Rychner (Paris 1967), pp. 69-70 (modern French version by M. Santucci (Paris 1986), p. 90).]


Pilgrimage Post Mortem: Wills

We have already seen that from early times benefactors left money, land or goods for charitable purposes, which sometimes included the foundation or endowment of hospitals which had the care of pilgrims among their responsibilities. Wills were also made by departing pilgrims as part of their preparations. Wills of both these types continued to be made throughout the medieval period. Late medieval wills, including those made by the town-dwelling, middle-class testator, often included a lot of small amounts left to different churches and for different purposes. With the growth of the belief in the possibility that pilgrimage, like other good works, could be performed vicariously, testators began to instruct their executors or heirs to effect the performance of one or more pilgrimages for their benefit and often also of ancestors or other kin. Such bequests were also made if the testator had vowed, or even simply wished, to make the pilgrimage; in his or her lifetime and ad failed to do so. It is with wills of this kind that this section is mostly concerned. If a specific sum of money is assigned for the performance of a named pilgrimage, it serves as a useful if rough guide to costs (rough, because it may include an allowance for offerings or for the profit of the hired pilgrim). Sometimes a sum had been put aside in a purse or chest with such pilgrimages specifically in mind, although more often property was to be sold for the purpose, or the cost simply to be taken out of the estate. The benefits, too, might be carefully apportioned: this pilgrimage to be undertaken for the soul of my late husband, that pilgrimage to be undertaken for my own. Vicarious pilgrimages were carried out by a variety of people. Men not infrequently asked wives, daughters or other female kin to undertake the journey; sons might be required to undertake a pilgrimage before they could enter into their inheritance. Where executors were in

[1]. J. Shirley, Garnier's Becket: translated from the 12th-century Vie Saint Thomas le Martyr de Cantorbire of Garnier of Pont-Saint-Mexence (London 1975), p. 157.

[2] See above p. 25.

[3] Vielliard, p. 96; Shaver-Crandell and Gerson, p. 89. For the Santiago souvenir trade, see Lopez Ferreiro, 5, pp. 3809, 125-6 and appendices V and XVII; Peregnnaciones, 1, pp. 129-35.

[4] AS May 7, p. 158.

[5] Giraldus Cambrensis, Opera, ed. ). S. Brewer, 8 vols, RS 21, 1, p. 53.

[6] Materials, p. 478.

[7] Les Miracles de Notre Dame de Rocamadour, p. 148.

[8] B-Text, Passus V, trans. A.V. Schmidt (Oxford 1992), pp. 59-60. ‘Vernicle’ was a common English corruption of 'Veronica', for which see above, p. 66.

[9] Description in illustrations in Lubin.

[10] Spencer (1968), pp. 138-9.

[11] Cohen (1976) with several of the relevant documents.

[12] Rupin, pp. 115-16, 233-6, 355-8, 363-4, 377-81. All Rocamadour medals bore the image of the Virgin on one side; some - the more soughtafter - had St Amadour on the reverse, others St Veronica, supposedly St Amadour’s wife.

[13] The Tale of Beryn, ed. R Furnivall and W. Stone, EETS extra senes, 105, 1887, p. 7

[14] Krotzl, pp. 386-7 (the figures), 134-5. A similar map has been drawn on the basis of finds of pilgrim tokens in Zeeland: see Van Heeringen.

[15] Spencer (1968), p. 144.

[16] Ibid., p. 142; Journal of the Bntish Archaeological Association 19 (1863). pl. 8; 23 (1867), pp. 256-68, 331-2, 370-8.

[17] H. Appuhn, 'Der Fund kleiner Andachtsbilder des 13. bis 17. Jahrhunderts in Kloster Wienhausen', Niederdeutsche Beitrage zur Kunstgewschichte 4 (1965) p. 199.

[18] A rather slmilar story was told c.1475 about a badge of the Virgin of Amersfoort, which kept its shape after it was put in a melting vat: Spencer (1968), p. 144.

[19] This text is also in A. Forgeais, Collection des plombs historiés trouvés dans la Seine (5 vols, Paris 1862-66), 2, pp. 77. For the Mont St Michel traile, see Lamy-Lasalle. 'Quincaillerie' is 'hardware' or 'ironmongery' in modern French, but here seems rather to mean 'trinkets' or bijouterie. Like Compostela, the shrine used the emblem of the shell (coquille); what the 'horns' (cornez) are is unclear.