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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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