14/7/19 – Halstock Leigh

I was at a dig organised by Southwest Detectorists today, a farm near Halstock that was reputed to have a Roman villa nearby and a medieval trackway running through the site we were detecting.  It was a bit warm and sweaty for a semi-obese slob like me to drag his carcass around the fields, but I managed 🙂

The dig was like being in the middle of a silver blizzard with coins being unearthed everywhere – mainly medieval, nothing Roman – but despite other people groaning under the weight of hammered silver coins all I’d found was iron washers and copper scrap, and a George VI 1948 sixpence (yawn)…

Then amazingly I stumbled across a first for me 😍, an almost perfect medieval Pilgrim’s Ampulla.  I heard a confused scratchy little signal buried deep within a load of iron signals but after trying several settings on the Deus decided to have a dig for it.  (Stephen Auker’s “Winkler” program was the clincher).  It was about 12 inches down (300mm for you metric types) and at first, never having seen one, I wasn’t sure what it was, only when I got back to the car for lunch, and gave it a clean, did one of the other diggers identify it for me.

From the bit of research I’ve done, the Crown over a reverse R symbol is likely for Richeldis de Faverches, also known as “Rychold”, who was a devout English noblewoman credited with establishing the original shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at Norfolk in 1061 after seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. 

The selling of ampullae to pilgrims became a big money earner at Walsingham and the ampulla makers set up a “factory” to manufacture ampullae for lots of other shrines in the area (reported keeping a surplus back to stock an “ampulla shop” for visiting pilgrims, something like a modern tourist trinket shop) 😀

I’ve no idea how to date the ampulla.  The shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was reportedly delivering miracles from it’s inception but only after King Henry II made a pilgrimage there in about 1226 did it became famous.  Following his example nearly all the Kings and Queens of England, up to and including King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon, came on pilgrimage, until the Dissolution of the Priory in 1538.  By the 14th and 15th centuries Walsingham was one of the premier places of pilgrimage in England.  Therefore the ampulla is definitely pre 1538, and from it’s styling probably much earlier than that…

Although it was found buried deep in a field it was unlikely to have been lost, as pilgrims used the ampullae to bring holy water or oil back from the Shrines to their fields where the water would be sprinkled and the ampullae buried as a votive offerings to ensure good harvests, etc.

As the day wore on the sky darkened, threatening rain so I gave in to the demands of my aching joints and left the rest of the diggers to it in search of more silver 😁

I’m waiting now for the Dorset & Somerset FLO, Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen, to get back to me to see if she needs it for recording…