Unique medieval seal matrix found in Norfolk

Gilded silver seal matrix, late 13th-early 14th c. Photo courtesy Andrew Williams/Norfolk County Council.A metal detectorist has discovered a medieval gilded silver seal matrix with several unique features in a field north of Norwich, southeastern England. It was discovered in April near Horsham St Faith and dates to the late 13th or early 14th century.

The circular seal is .9 inches in diameter and the central motif is a crowned Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. A monk on his knees prays to her right. A scroll running upwards from the tips of his joined hands reads AVE * MA (Hail Mary). The scene is set in a quatrefoil frame. Set in a beaded circular border around the edge of the die is an inscription in medieval Latin that reads TE: ROGO: IVSTICIE: SOL: PIVS: ESTO: VIE. That translates to “I beseech thee, holy sun of righteousness, be the way.” This inscription has never been found before on any other seals or objects.

Dr Geake, Norfolk’s find liaison officer, said: “It’s completely unique, we don’t have anything to compare with this inscription.

“The ‘sun of righteousness’, appears in the Old Testament, towards the end of a set of prophecies, and became a relatively common way of referring to Jesus Christ in the Middle Ages.”

The iconography of Virgin and Child with a kneeling monk is relatively common on seals, both private ones and ones used for official ecclesiastical documents, but there is no directly comparable example of this imagery on a circular seal. This matrix has another very unusual feature: the reverse is a recessed socket with a notched border that suggests it had a detachable handle that could be inserted and turned to lock it in place. Seals with sockets for handles are known on the archaeological record, but the handles were permanently mounted, not interchangeable.

[Dr Geake] believes it must have been owned by a monk and he would have exchanged the die with others, one of which was personal and another to reflect his official role in the monastery.

“It’s unique in two different ways – it’s interchangeable and it has this little, private prayer,” Dr Geake said.

“It’s a window into someone’s personal, emotional or spiritual world in the years before the Black Death.”

One thought on “Unique medieval seal matrix found in Norfolk

  1. Excuse me for not being a native speaker, but when Dr. Geake says that the user would “exchange the die with others”, does he mean that the matrix would be replaced –i.e. in its frame or socket– by another one?

    Would –i.e. unless you are the monarch, dictator etc.– the usage of a seal EVER have been a “private” one? And would other matrices ever have fitted into that socket at all? – TE: ROGO 🧐️

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.