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An interesting find from Chester – evidence for a medieval pilgrim

For the last fourteen years the Archaeological Service of Cheshire West and Chester Council have been conducting a training excavation for archaeological students from the University of Chester. This year, because of the corona virus pandemic, the customary four week dig in May was postponed but they managed to carry out a two week dig in October. Nowadays, the site lies in the lawns of the municipal park but in the Middle Ages the ecclesiastical precinct of St John the Baptist extended across the area. My colleague, Julie Edwards, Archaeological Officer at the Grosvenor Museum, provided the following note about the interesting find of a pilgrim badge from this year’s excavation.

The late Brian Spencer identifies it as the emblem of St Blaise patron saint of wool combers and one of whose miracles prompted people to ask him for help with throat ailments. He was tortured with iron combs – presumably iron wool combs – before being beheaded. His shrine was at Canterbury. It has a pin on the back and what seems to be a suspension loop on the front. It is the first pilgrim badge that I know of from an excavation in Chester although there are some from Meols and ampulla have been found in Cheshire.

The student in whose tray it was found had just received a negative Covid test result and recovered from a sore throat!

Pilgrim badges could be bought by pilgrims at the shrines they were visiting just like we might buy souvenirs on our holidays. They were relatively cheap and were often produced in large quantities. They generally had a means of affixing them to the pilgrim’s clothes or hats to advertise their travels.

Simon Ward
Cathedral Archaeologist