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The pilgrim with his scrip, staff and leaden badges, was a familiar sight on medieval roads throughout Britain, Europe and the Holy Land from the early 1200's through the 1500's when the rising tide of Protestantism closed many shrines and places of sanctuary. Pilgrims were a varied lot. Some were seeking help for a particular affliction, some wished to honor a vow or atone for a sin. Many simply set out to see something of the world and find some adventure in distant or foreign lands. Whatever the reason for their travels, pilgrims choked the roads from spring to fall and sometimes doubled the populations of shrine towns, giving a much needed boost to local economies who depended on the sale of food, lodging and souvenirs.  

St. James

As pilgrims flooded into shrine towns, they clamored for souvenirs of their travels. Originally they took rocks or debris from the shrines, but as their numbers grew, significant damage was being done to the holy sites. Among the first pilgrim souvenirs were scallop shells sold at the shrine site at Compostela, Spain, in honor of St. James. St. James became the patron saint of pilgrims and his scallop shell became a symbol of pilgrimage right across Europe.
Soon a new group of artisans appeared to serve the growing demand for souvenirs. These "Ampullers" sold lead-tin bottles (ampullae) containing water from the shrines, badges, whistles, rattles and bells. These base metal souvenirs were mass produced in stone molds and sold cheaply in the marketplaces that grew up around pilgrimage sites.
Although they took many forms, there were two distinct types of pilgrims' badges. The religious badges depicting the saints, their relics or the manner of their martyrdom, were strictly licensed and could only be sold by certain Ampullers at the shrine sites. These badges were guaranteed to have "touched" the shrine and were holy objects themselves. These badges were proof that a pilgrimage had been completed and pilgrims often enjoyed preferential treatment in taverns and hostelries.

Among the most popular Medieval shrine sites were Compostela, Cologne, Canterbury, Aachen, Walshingham, Westminster, Rome and Jerusalem

Our Lady of

In addition to the religious badges, secular badges and charms were also very popular and featured beasts, heraldic and livery charges, hearts, figures and everyday objects. These were purchased as gifts for those left behind, or as amusing reminders of a good trip in much the same way we buy souvenirs today. Often these badges were quite naughty and winged phalluses were worn together with saints' badges on hats and scrips! The other popular items like rattles, bells and whistles were cast and sold in the same shops and sold to the merrymaking pilgrims, much to the annoyance of the townsfolk. The sales of these items was widespread and they were also cast and sold in girdlers' shops that sold base metal buckles, buttons and belt mounts.

Crowned Heart

Pilgrim with badges.

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Pilgrim Badges and Signs

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The Art of the Medieval Aquamanile