History beneath our feet – May 2023

Words by:
Colin Smale
Featured in:
May 2023

Colin Smale casts a light on pilgrims and pilgrimages.

Lincolnshire and Boston in particular are well-known regarding pilgrims.

The Pilgrim Fathers Memorial is located on the north bank of The Haven at the site of the former Scotia Creek, Fishtoft, seaward of Boston in Lincolnshire.

It consists of a small granite obelisk mounted on a granite block. These three images are somewhat older than the Pilgrim Fathers.

Let’s start with the coin shaped lead disc [PIC 1]. Found on a ploughed field in Goxhill, it is a 15th-century “pilgrim badge”. This clearly shows the crucifixion with Jesus on the cross and probably his mother Mary on the left and John the Baptist on the right.

It would be very difficult to interpret Mary and John from this example, but we know that this is who they are based on other, similar pilgrim badges.

Catherine wheel pilgrim badge
The sad example of a pilgrim badge shown in PIC 2 created quite a bit of head scratching. I could not begin to imagine what it was, or had once been. Fortunately Lincolnshire’s finds liaison officer, Adam Daubney identified it immediately.

This medieval lead pilgrim badge measuring 5.25mm wide represents the torture device used on St Catherine before her execution. Similar examples, which are dated to the 15th century, have come from excavations at Billingsgate, Bull Wharf and Butler’s Wharf and the great majority have been retrieved from the Thames foreshore.

Roman brooch
The wonderful Roman horse and rider brooch shown here [PIC 3] are rare finds and even more rare in this condition.

Found just north of Horncastle, this is a copper alloy Roman enamelled brooch in the form of a horse and rider, probably dating to ca. AD 250-410. The brooch is largely complete, missing only its pin, which would have been made of iron and rusted away centuries ago.

The horse’s flank and the man’s side have recessed cells containing traces of both yellow and blue enamel. This brooch is 23mm in height, 32mm in length.

It is said that brooches of this type have strong religious connections due to large quantities discovered at temple sites. It has also been suggested that these brooches may depict a Romano-Celtic rider god, perhaps a combination of Mars and a local deity.

It may have been purchased from shrines as the Roman equivalent of one of our medieval pilgrim badges.

was he/she going and, standing on the spot where it was found, what did it look like round there in those days?

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