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.
“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.”