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Saint of the month; April St George

Feast Day: 23rd April

This month we’re taking a look at one of the more famous English Saints, St George:

Famous for slaying the dragon and saving the princess, the legend dates back to the 12th century and is symbolic of the victory of Good over evil.

This badge depicts the popular legend in which the soldier – Saint George, slays the dragon and saves the princess. The legend dates from around the 12th Century and is symbolic of the victory of Good over Evil. The original is dated to the 14th century and is currently in a private collection in London.

Buy your St George badge here

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The organic jewels

What are ‘organic’ jewels? This a category of ‘jewels’ created from or by living things. Today fine jewelery tends to recognise only four; that of Amber, Pearls, Coral and Jet. During the renaissance and medieval periods there were many more including a few that may seem rather bizarre by our standards.

They include bone, bezoar stones, feathers, timber and seeds, insect and insect parts such as butterfly wings, and fish scales – anything in fact, which was considered beautiful and or useful by attributed virtues. They were treated with the same craftsmanship and reverence that more familiar precious stones do today, as can be seen by the setting of these organic jewels alongside or as focal points in jewels made for every part of the body and clothes.

While inherently fragile by nature, organic jewels with the correct care can last a very long time. A Scottish freshwater pearl, currently a part of the British crown jewels, was brought into the British royal treasury by Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry the 8th. With care it has survived many re-settings into different jewels and holds its beauty now as then.

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Saint of the month; March The Annunciation

This month in the medieval world we celebrate not a saint – but the principle Marian (Cult of Mary) event; Solemnity of the Annunciation or ‘Festum incarnationis’ (feast of the incarnation). It is held on the 25th of March and documentation across the medieval and renaissance world show that it has been celebrated on this date from the 4th Century.

The celebration commemorates the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary to announce that she had been chosen to be the mother of Christ, Son of God. Mary was invoked as the compassionate intercessor and protector of humanity and for her courage, humility and gentleness. 

The Cult of Mary grew in strength in the 12 and 13th Centuries and flourished from the 14th Centuries onwards. It is believed that the veneration of Mary and her status as the mediator to God and a source of refuge for man is one of the a major Tenant and driving force behind the Age of Chivalry with its concept of the honour of a lady. Where women had often been viewed as a source of evil, the growth of the age of chivalry and the flourishing of the cult of Mary helped to change this attitude.

For Mary there is no single shrine, rather there are literally thousands of Marian shrines across the medieval world. They celebrate an apparition or other miracle ascribed to her, and most are part of or the reason for pilgrimage routes. 

There are a host of pilgrims badges associated with Mary and of the Annunciation, some of which are associated with a particular shrine (eg Our Lady Undercroft at Canterbury), and others which were universal symbols and could be bought at any shrine. We carry a number of the most popular badges – listed below.

Fleur de Lys

The Annunciation

the letter ‘M’

Madonna and Child

Our Lady of Walsingham

Our of Lady Undercroft

The Annunciation

Virgin and Child

Walsingham – a fleur de lys set with a garnet

Winged Heart

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Pilgrim badge series; Souvenirs and belief

As with any tourist, mediaeval pilgrims needed to bring home evidence of a successful journey. Unfortunately that need created a serious problem for every holy site. Pilgrims would chip, scrape, gouge and smuggle ‘relics’ from the holy sites despite the obvious damage they created or threat of excommunication; a severe punishment to mediaeval people. The custodians of the sites had to find a way to manage this problem.

The answer was ingenious; devise, manufacture and sell cheap souvenirs that pilgrims could purchase only at the holy sites. The sites would not only be saved from the quarrying but also create a revenue strand and a way to boost the local economy. A clear win for everyone and from the mid 12th century onwards practically every holy site across Europe and England was actively making and selling.

Quite a number of different types of souvenirs were created including  ampula of blessed water, mirrors and bells, but the most common and popular were the pilgrim’s badges. Mostly single sided and easily attached to clothes, hats and bags, the designs were specific to a site’s Saint, their martyrdom and their attributes and were changed often. Ownership of a badge not only provided proof of pilgrimage, but when worn was also believed to make available the virtues and power of the Saint to the wearer. 

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Saint of the Month; February St Blaise

Feast Day: 3rd February

Saint Blaise was a bishop in Asia Minor, martyred in the 4th Century by being tortured with an iron comb before being killed. He is the patron saint of wool-combers and very popular with those seeking a cure for throat ailments.

Buy your own replica St Blaise pewter badge here

Learn more about St Blaise on his wikipedia page

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January; Mary, Mother of God

Feast Day: 1st January

To celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, we’re highlighting the Fleur de Lys badge.

The Fleur de Lys (also known as The Flower of Innocence) was the symbol of the Virgin Mary, so this badge may be from the shrine at Walsingham. Alternatively there is some suggestion that this particular badge design may be associated with the shrine to Our Lady of Undercroft at Canterbury. Badges for the virgin Mary were sold at many shrines as she is the patron saint for all humans, especially young children.

Buy a pewter badge of the Fleur de Lys here

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St Alban’s Day – June 22nd

When brought before the judge and required to comply with the rituals of the Roman ‘Pagan’ gods, Alban refused and declared, “I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things.”

According to the venerable Bede, Alban lived and was martyred in Verulamium (now St Albans) Roman Britain, sometime during the 3rd or 4th Century. There are several versions of the martyrdom but in essence, Alban converted to Christianity while sheltering a Christian priest from persecution having been impressed by the piety and faith of the priest. So much so, that when the Roman soldiers deployed to arrest the priest arrived at Albans house, Alban donned the cloak of the priest and gave himself up in the priest’s stead.

When brought before the judge and required to comply with the rituals of the Roman ‘Pagan’ gods, Alban refused and declared, “I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things.” (The words are still used in prayer at St Alban’s Abbey).

After various torture, Alban was sentenced to execution by beheading and it is during the journey to his martyrdom that Alban caused several miraculous events to occur including the drying up of a river to allow the execution party to cross to the place of beheading, and a spring to flow forth at the place of execution to slake Albans thirst.

It was here that Alban’s head was struck off, along with the head of the first Roman soldier who was miraculously converted and refused to execute him. Immediately after delivering the fatal stroke, the eyes of the second executioner popped out of his head and dropped to the ground along with Alban’s head so that this second executioner could not rejoice over Alban’s death. It is this scene which is typically depicted in the medieval pilgrim’s Badges of St Alban.


References;

Bede’s?Ecclesiastical History of the English People

10th century?Passio?(ASS?=?Acta Sanctorum, 347-8) second, 11th century?Passio?(ASS?345-6).

Antonio Niere,?Bibliotheca Sanctorum, op.cit. pp. 354-8;?ASS?Oct XIII 335-48

Spencer B, Pilgrim souvenirs and secular, ?EAN 9780112905745

Blick S, Beyond Pilgrim souvenirs and secular, 9781842172353

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Brass Care

Most of us no longer use unlaquered brassware around the home, so cleaning brass is no longer a weekly task; many people have never cleaned brass! Using Brasso or brass cleaning cloths is a perfectly functional modern technique for cleaning and maintaining your reproduction brass; seriously, just follow the instructions.

However, if you have very old brass (100+ years), or prefer not to use modern chemicals, there are other alternatives. Many have been used since the medieval period right through to the 20th century. They do take more elbow grease yet the result can be as every bit as good and with the satisfaction of being envirnomentally friendly. Even more, it is a direct link with our ancestors, when cleaning brass and silvers was not just a weekly chore – it was an opportunity to gather, gossip and a little friendly competition.

Cleaning small brass pieces;

Wash the brass piece in warm soapy water to remove the worst of the accumulated grime – use an old toothbrush to assist if there are intricate patterns and undercuts;
dry thoroughly with a soft cloth – and at this point you can check to see if the piece has been laquered. Look for a yellow tinge and/or scratches which you can widen with your fingernails. If it is, skip to the section at the end;
if the brass piece is small immerse in an diluted vinegar bath (so ~ 5% acid)
leave for ~ 60 mins;
gently agitate every now and then. Don’t leave it too long as the acid can leach some elements of the brass and cause pitting;
remove the piece from the bath;
rinse thoroughly with clean water and dry with a soft cloth;

Too large for a vinegar bath? 2 period options;

as above wash the brass piece in warm soapy water to remove the worst of the accumulated grime – use an old toothbrush to assist if there are intricate patterns and undercuts;
dry thoroughly with a soft cloth – and at this point you can check to see if the piece has been laquered. If it is, skip to the section at the end;
cut a lemon in half and rub the cut end into salt;
apply this salted lemon surface FIRMLY onto the surface of the brass – it will clean off the oxidation with a bit of elbow grease;
rinse thoroughly with clean water and dry with a soft cloth, buffing the shine as you go;

Alternative 2;

make a paste from equal parts of white vinegar, salt, and white flour and use cloths and/or an old toothbrush to thoroughly cover the brass surface with the paste;
leave the paste for roughly an hour – before it dries out as that will make it very hard to remove the paste;
rinse thoroughly with clean water and dry and buff to as high a shine as you like with a soft cloth using small circular motions;

Removing laquer from old antique brass;

Gently pour hot water directly over the brass to soften the lacquer;
peel the laquer away from the edges or wherever it has started to fail – you can often see a yellow tinge to the colour of metal between the laquered and non laquered;
If hot water fails, rub the brass with denatured alcohol or acetone in a well ventilated area with a soft cloth on a part of the brass that is not seen. Stop immeadiately and rinse with water if there are any unexpected changes.

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Annunciation – 25th of March

This month in the medieval world we celebrate not a saint ? but the principle Marian (Cult of Mary) event; Solemnity of the Annunciation or ?Festum incarnationis? (feast of the incarnation). It is held on the 25th of March and documentation across the medieval and renaissance world show that it has been celebrated on this date from the 4th Century.

Continue reading Annunciation – 25th of March