Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Pilgrim Badge of Our Lady of Undercroft, Canterbury Cathedral
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This pilgrim badge comes from the shrine of Our Lady of Undercroft at Canterbury Cathedral, England. Canterbury Cathedral became a popular destination for pilgrims after knights of King Henry II murdered Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, on 29, December 1170. Following his death, Becket was made a saint and became one of the patron saints of London. Pilgrims came to Canterbury to pray at the shrines and purchased badges as souvenirs of their visit. Pilgrimage badges served several purposes: they were proof of the successful completion of an arduous and occasionally dangerous journey to a pilgrimage site, they provided protection for their carriers on the trip home, and they became sacred objects themselves when their owner touched them to the shrine or relic of a saint.

    On this badge, the figure of the Virgin is crowned and seated on a throne that is barely visible beneath her robes and mantle. Over her right shoulder, she holds a long scepter with a fleur-de-lys top, and in her other arm, she supports the infant Christ, who stands barefoot on her knee. In an elegant, swaying pose, the Child reaches to touch the brooch securing his mother’s mantle. The Virgin’s face is depicted in half profile as she gazes down at Christ whose head is encompassed by a cruciform nimbus. The inclination of her head to the right marks the beginning of her S-shaped body pose, and it ends at the point of her right shoe, which is turned in the opposite direction. The Virgin and Child are set against an openwork background of delicate lattice-work and are framed by an architectural canopy. Beneath the arches on the side shafts are two niches each containing the figure of a saint. In the left shaft is a crowned and bearded king holding a royal scepter, and in the right shaft is an archbishop wearing the pallium and raising his hand in blessing. Both saints adopt the same swaying S-pose as the principle figures, and the bases of the niches are angled backwards in order to increase the prominence of the Virgin.

    This image of the Virgin celebrates a combination of motherhood and queenship, of compassion and power, which underscores her position as an intercessor for humanity in heaven. This badge possesses stylistic and iconographic ties to some of Canterbury’s finest and largest pilgrimage badges, such as the badge of the martyrdom or a version of the standing figure of St. Thomas.

  • Source: Photo-bank of Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture, Digital Resource Commons at Keyon College
  • Rights: Open access
  • Subject (See Also): Hagiography Mary, Virgin, Saint- Cult Pilgrim Badges Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury Thrones
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 14
  • Date: Late 14th century
  • Related Work: See other pilgrim badges on the Dutch website Kunera http://www.kunera.nl/
  • Current Location: London, Museum of London, 84.394
  • Original Location: Canterbury, England
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Metalwork
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Pilgrim badges; Pewter;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 140 mm/71 mm/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Blick, Sarah. "King and Cleric: Richard II and the Iconography of St. Thomas Becket and St. Edward the Confessor at Our Lady of Undercroft, Canterbury Cathedral." Beyond Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges: Essays in Honour of Brian Spencer. Ed. Sarah Blick. Oxbow, 2007. Pages 182-200;
    Spencer, Brian. Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges: Medieval Finds from Excavations in London. Muesum of London. London. 1998. Pg. 129-132.;
    Bell, Adrien R. and Richard S. Dale. "The Medieval Pilgrimage Business." Enterprise & Society. Vol. 12. No. 3. September 2011. Pg. 601-627.