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Scallop shell pilgrim’s badge

Scallop shell pilgrim's badge outside

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages… Chaucer.

To be a pilgrim in medieval times signified devotion and piety but also it meant a break from repetitive, and often hard, daily toil. In short it was a holiday, the mood vividly captured in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales written in the 14th century.

The principal shrines of medieval England were Canterbury and Walsingham though Winchester, with important relics like those of Sts. Swithun, Birinus, Grimbald and Judoc, was a pilgrim centre with more than local appeal.

Pilgrim badges, often worn on the hat, marked the wearer as worthy of receiving alms, protection and hospitality. The scallop shell, excavated in Winchester, was the cherished memento of a pilgrim who had been to the shrine of St James at Compostela, Spain. This involved a long, arduous and often dangerous journey and the scallop of St James was the best known and most respected of all pilgrim souvenirs.

Often, on completion of a successful pilgrimage, pilgrims would toss their badges into a river at a particular place as thank-offerings: dredging in the river mud at Salisbury has produced numerous pilgrim signs. As yet, though, only four pilgrim badges have been found in Winchester, which suggests the site of this ritual in Winchester has yet to be located.

Quick Facts

  • Accession number WINCM:BSSC63-64 SF59
  • Made of scallop shell
  • Dimensions Width 55mm
  • Date made 13th century
  • Period medieval
  • Found in excavations at Winchester
  • Excavated in 1963-64

Facts

  • Scallop shells were distributed to Compostela pilgrims from as early as the 12th century. In fact, the scallop was the first pilgrim sign to have been devised by a shrine in the west. Sanctified at the shrine of St James, and as evidence of piety, many pilgrims saw them as passports to heaven and took them to their graves.
  • This is the convex lower shell of an immature scallop (Pecten maximus), drilled for stitching to the pilgrim’s hat or bag as a badge.
  • “Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
    And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes…”
    Chaucer, The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Did you know?

The name Palmer derives from palm-leaves, the sign worn by pilgrims returning from the Holy Land.

Gallery

Scallop shell pilgrim's badge
Scallop shell pilgrim's badge inside

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