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Mk-Plgrm-Souv-art - 8/27/10


"Making Pilgrim Souvenirs" by HL Jutte Haberlein. Pewter Badges and Ampullae.


NOTE: See also the files: casting-msg, Cast-Wax-Seal-art, pewter-msg, tokens-msg, soapstone-msg, Beg-Pwtr-Cast-art, cast-cutlefsh-msg, Cast-Wood-Mlds-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org




Making Pilgrim Souvenirs

by Honorable Lady Jutte Haberlein




As spring approached in the fair Kingdom of Trimaris in Anno Societatis XLII, I set out on the perilous road to the Kingdom of Gleann Abhann to aid our great army and allies in defeating the invading enemy. Many were the deeds of glory and honor on the battlefield to be recounted to succeeding generations around the evening fires of home, but none were as splendid as the miracle of the creation of Saint Martin's Spring. Though I doubted that time would ever dull my memory of that marvelous sight, I wished that I had some memento that I might hold and gaze upon in my meditations; wherefore I have wrought these pilgrim souvenirs of the Shrine of the Well.


Many sacred shrines in the medieval Christian world were commemorated in a souvenir badge to be sold to the countless visiting pilgrims throughout the middle ages, both as a means of generating income and preserving the shrines from being carried off piece by piece. Most of the badges were made of inexpensive metals and alloys such as lead and pewter. The designs were representations of saints and the symbols associated with them, as well as symbols associated with secular subjects, easily carved into stone molds for mass production (Figure 1). (Blair 67)


I had originally intended to make only a pilgrim badge for this project; however, while researching the subject I discovered that ampullae were also very common pilgrim souvenirs. (Morrison 24) Since the shrine to which the souvenirs were to be dedicated was a spring, it seemed very appropriate to include both types.  Figures 2 and 3 are examples of extant ampullae.


Making a pewter pilgrim badge and ampulla requires relatively few and simple tools and materials. I had obtained most of these from a merchant at Gulf Wars. In period and given access to cutting, grinding, and forging tools, an artisan might have made many of the tools used in this process, but could easily have purchased them as well. The essential items are soapstone (also called steatite), carving tools, casting metal, a crucible in which to melt the metal, a ladle, and fire. For safety, the artisan should also use thick gloves and glasses or goggles.


Figure 1 - A fragment of a stone mold for casting pewter badges, 15th century. (Museum of London)


Figure 2 - Pewter ampulla, holy water bottle: 13th century (Museum of London)


Figure 3 - 15th Century Lead-Alloy Pilgrim Ampulla. (UK Finds Database)


            The tools necessary for carving have changed very little since the medieval period. Theophilus gives instructions for making gravers, burnishers, punches, chisels, and files, all of which can be used for carving and finishing soapstone and castings. (Theophilus 91 – 93)


The metal from which many extant pilgrim souvenirs were cast was lead (or an alloy of lead), which was plentiful, cheap, and melts at a relatively low temperature. Leaded pewter was also used in period for some pilgrim souvenirs and tableware, and was known in the 12th century, when Theophilus wrote about making a pewter vessel in his treatises. (Theophilus 179 -182) A safer alternative is lead-free pewter, an alloy of tin and antimony.


A charcoal fire or furnace was generally used as the heat source to melt the pewter.


The first step was to sketch out the design. I decided to use a design depicting Saint Martin in armor, wielding a pickax and pointing to the miraculous fountain erupting from the earth. On the sides, I decided to put the sacred motto, "Dico Pro Vos Cavo," or "Call Before You Dig." I wanted to have open spaces in the design, so I sketched it out with the sky as negative space. I decided to use four corner rings for sewing the badge onto clothing or hats, as depicted in the badge in Figure 4.


Figure 4 - Pilgrim badge of St Eloi: Late 13th century (Museum of London)

Once I had arrived at a design I liked, I cut it out of paper as a template and used it to draw the outline onto the face of the soapstone with a soft-lead pencil. I then drew a fill channel, or sprue, leading off the design to the edge of the stone. Next, using a steel tool with a sharp point, I incised the outlines of the design into the stone and then began gently scraping and excavating the areas of the design which were to be filled with molten metal. When the design appeared to be complete, I melted the pewter in the crucible to perform an initial pour. I pulled on heavy leather gloves and held the two pieces of soapstone together in my gloved hand, using a plain block of soapstone the same size as the carved piece for a backing. I dipped up molten pewter in the ladle with the other hand and carefully poured it into the sprue. At this point, the stone is still cold and frequently causes the metal to cool and set before it can flow to all areas of the carving. As expected, I found that there were voids in the casting when I separated the two pieces of stone (Figure 5). Usually, if the stone has been properly carved, the metal will flow and fill the open spaces completely once the stone has absorbed sufficient heat from the metal.


In this case, I found that there were many areas where the carving was simply too shallow or narrow to allow the metal to flow through completely. Observing where the metal stopped in the design, I carved some areas deeper and wider and periodically tested the modifications until I was satisfied with the results.  The unacceptable castings were put back into the crucible to be reused. When the cast badge was cool enough to handle, I twisted off the sprue and used a small file to smooth and clean the edges. The discarded sprue was put back into the crucible for reuse. I repeated the process for a second badge (Figure 6).


Figure 5 - Voids in the casting


Figure 6 - Completed badges


The ampulla required a slightly different technique. The badge was a one-sided design (except for the maker's mark incised into the back plate) whereas the ampulla would be a two-sided, hollow design. As before, I started with a sketch and a template that I traced onto the stone. The sprue was actually the neck of the ampulla and an integral part of the object. Due to the limited space on the ampulla, I abbreviated the motto one side of the ampulla – "DPVC". The first test casting was performed as a one-sided design, and the cast piece was then used as the tracing template for the second side (Figure 7).


Figure 7 - Test casting the ampulla


            Casting the two-sided ampulla was slightly different from casting the one-sided badge. An ampulla is a hollow vessel, not a solid piece. The technique used to cast hollow objects is called "slush casting" (Blick and Tekippe 450). It requires that the molten metal be poured into the mold just until a crust has formed against the walls of the mold, then the remaining metal is poured back out. This is trickier than it sounds. When the mold is cold, the metal has a tendency to set up too quickly to be poured out, and a solid object results. Once the mold has become hot, it becomes challenging to determine how long to allow the molten metal to sit in the mold before pouring it back out. Too short a time renders an incomplete casting (Figure 8), too long results in a solid casting.


Figure 8 - Incomplete casting when the stone is too hot


            Like the badges, the ampulla casting had superfluous metal extending from the neck. Using a jeweler's saw, I cut this extra metal away to leave a clean edge on the top of the bottle (Figure 9). The ampulla could then be filled with water, earth, or other small relics and the neck clamped or hammered closed.


            This was my first attempt at carving a detailed design into soapstone, having previously made only two other carvings for practice since learning the technique. The resulting badges and ampullae, while not so finely detailed as some of the extant pieces due to my inexperience, will remind me for a very long time of the wonders I experienced at Gulf Wars.



Figure 9 - Completed ampullae


Works Cited


A fragment of a stone mold for casting pewter badges. 15th century. Museum of London, London.

Blair, John and Nigel Ramsey, eds. English Medieval Industries: Craftsmen, Techniques, Products. London: The Hambledon Press, 1991.

Blick, Sarah and Rita Tekippe, eds. Art and Architecture of Late Medieval Pilgrimage in Northern Europe and The British Isles. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005.

Lead-Alloy Pilgrim Ampulla. 15th century. UK Finds Database, London.

Morrison, Susan Signe. Women Pilgrims In Late Medieval England. New York : Routledge, 2000.

Pewter ampulla, holy water bottle: 13th century. Museum of London, London.

Pilgrim badge of St Eloi. Late 13th century. Museum of London, London.

Theophilus. On Divers Arts. Trans. John G. Hawthorne and Cyril Stanley Smith, New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1979.


Copyright 2008 by Joan Bahur, 2770 Friday Lane. Cocoa, FL 32926. <jbahur at bellsouth.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org