Kunera, late medieval badges and ampullae

Badges and ampullae surface regularly in riverfront deposits and old city centers. These little known objects are the material witnesses to the rich and fascinating visual world of the late Middle Ages. Often only unique copies or – in rare instances – some duplicates of the same mould were passed down, even though the objects were mass-produced at the time.

Over Kunera


Susanna of Rome in Brittany

Nothing is known of pilgrimages to Susanna, but a mould suggests that there was a pilgrimage cult of Susanna in the abbey of Le Mont-Saint-Michel. The mould shows an image of a female saint veiled and holding a book. Underneath her feet there is an inscription in French that has been interpreted as SAINTE DUCANNE and the woman subsequently as duchess Anne of Brittany. This seems unlikely however, because the duchess was never sanctified nor was there ever any claim for her beatification or sanctification after she died. It is more likely that the inscription reads SAINTE SUSANNE. Depicted then is Susanna of Rome who was, as legend had it, desired by the son of Emperor Diocletian. He asked her to marry him but she refused wanting to remain a virgin. As punishment she was beheaded. Her vita dates from the sixth century and probably is fictitious. Most likely Susanna never existed. Nevertheless her supposed relics are kept and venerated in the Roman church of Santa Susanna al Quirinale in Rome. Her relics also found their way to Brittany, specifically to the abbey on Le Mont-Saint-Michel. In a book review Elisabeth Rabeisen points out the presence of a fourteenth-century reliquary of Susanna in the abbey, in 1640. Later, it was moved to the church of Saint-Gervais in Avranches. The mould found in Le Mont-Saint-Michel attests to a cult where pilgrims could venerate Susanna and buy badges of the saint. • Élisabeth Rabeisen, book review Françoise LABAUNE-JEAN dir., Le plomb et la pierre : petits objets de dévotion pour les pèlerins du Mont-Saint-Michel, de la conception à la production (XIVe-XVe siècles)’, Revue archéologique de l’Est 65 (2016), p. 453-460.


Flight into Egypt

A collection of badges in the national museum of Prag has been part of the Kunera database for quite a while now. In 2012 the collection was published in a beautiful catalog called 'Jungfrauen, Engel, Fallustiere'. Publication however does not mean that we cannot elaborate on these badges with new information every now and then. For example, a badge with a figure that was described in the German-language catalog as "Jäger?" is probably Joseph, Jesus's foster father. The badge fragment depicts a male figure. Badge specialist Hartmut Kühne wrote about him: "Der markante Jägerhut und der von der Figur gehaltenen Pfeil (?) könnten zu einer Jagdszene gehört haben." In other words, he suggested that the man may have been part of a hunting scene. The text on the badge – part of the angelic salutation Ave Maria – surely indicates that the scene involved the Virgin. A comparison with another badge in the Van Beuningen family collection (Kunera no. 16589) clarifies that the figure may have been Joseph, specifically Joseph guiding the ass with the Virgin and Child on its back. The family moved to Egypt on the run from Herod who ordered all young boys to be killed. On this other badge, found in Sluis, Joseph also stands close to the badge frame. He is wearing a similar hat. Moreover, he carries a long and thin stick over his shoulder, like the Prag figure does. From this hangs a knapsack which identifies Joseph and the entire Holy Family as a travelers with luggage. A large part of the Flight into Egypt is missing from the badge in Prag, primarily the ass carrying the Virgin and Child. Only Joseph remains. The poor man even has to do without his knapsack.


Peter of Lézan

The Kunera database contains many badges of Saint Peter. The provenance of two very comparable badges depicting the apostle was for a long time unknown however. On the basis of two other badges, found in Arles and Avignon, the other two can now be identified as souvenirs from Lézan in the French department Gard (arr. Alès). With their wish to venerate Peter medieval pilgrims could travel to different sites in Europe, Rome being the most important. After their arrival, pilgrims could buy badges depicting Peter and Paul, but they could also purchase souvenirs depicting only one of the two apostles. In addition, pilgrims could go to Arles or Cluny to venerate Peter and badges were sold there too. Examples of souvenirs from Rome, Arles and Cluny are in the Kunera database. Listing the badge finds in the Provence archeologist Olivier Thuaudet (2017) pointed out two badges of Peter from the pilgrimage site of Lézan. One was dredged from the river Rhône in Arles in 1909. A similar badge was found years later in the city of Avignon. Both badges show Peter with a large key raising his hand in blessing. A kneeling figure, probably a pilgrim, is at his feet. The text S BEATI PETRI DE LESANO along the edge explains where the badge is from: Lézan. Based on these two finds two more badges can now be identified as originating from Lézan. One is in the the royal library in Brussels (Kunera 12955), the other in a private collection (Kunera 13179). The find sites of both are unknown. The former used to be part of the collection of Paul Dissard, formerly curator of the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Lyon. A find site in France seems therefore likely. The latter was topic of discussion on an internet forum of metal detectorists in 2005. This badge was probably found in France or Belgium. Because of their shape and style both badges can roughly be dated in the thirteenth or fourteenth century. A comparison with the aforementioned badges from Arles and Avignon clarifies that the latter two of unknown find sites - but probably from France - must be from Lézan as well. The attributions are all the more interesting because not much is known about Lézan as medieval site of pilgrimage. The Romanesque pilgrimage church was destroyed during religious wars. Because fo this Thuaudet wrote that Lézan is a cult site “that has left little historical trace.” With two ‘new’ finds a little more about Lézan as medieval center of pilgrimage and its popularity has come to light.