Sacred & Profane Signs, The Magic Powers of the Saints

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Between 1999 and 2003, an archaeological excavation of the Sainte-Catherine river produced a remarkable collection of medieval pilgrim badges. Between C. XII and C. XV, Christian pilgrims would display these inexpensive badges as charms bought at shrines to the saints.

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Some pilgrim badges would display a mundane concern to which the pilgrimage was dedicated (healing, expiation for sins committed, special blessing, travel concerns, etc.) while others were fashioned through verisimilitude to have the same protective powers as the sacred relics they represented. 

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These badges, or signs, not only represented the experiences of the pilgrimage, but also presented the wearer’s status as a pilgrim as well as what pilgrimage they were set upon. These would also function as a visual language between pilgrims who did not speak a common tongue. The wide popularity, mobility and cheap easy production has resulted in a high number of found examples. Besides their apotropaic qualities, to the medieval pilgrim, the badge also served as a visual memory of their encounter with the sacred relic–a souvenir.

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In the image above, a variety of examples from Canterbury Cathedral depict the head relic of St. Thomas à Becket. The head was removed from public veneration and the Cult of Becket was outlawed during the English Reformation.  

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Bibliography
Blick, Sarah, ‘
Comparing Pilgrim Souvenirs and Trinity Chapel Windows at Canterbury Cathedral: An Exploration of Context, Copying, and the Recovery of Lost Stained Glass’, Mirator (2001), 1-27
Lee, Jennifer, ‘Beyond the Locus Sanctus: The Independent Iconography of Pilgrims’ Souvenirs’, Visual Resources 21 (2005), 363-381
TIXADOR A. Enseignes sacrées et profanes médiévales découvertes à Valenciennes, Service archéologique de Valenciennes / Illustria-Librairie des Musées, 2004.

Magical Treasure Trove in Pompeii

This is a really interesting archaeological find, and right after I posted my own magical treasure trove. Recently in Pompeii, where excavations have been occurring in one form or another for the past three centuries, there was discovered a casket full of daily-use implements which also included a number of magical artifacts.

Amulets, gems and small objects re-emerge from the excavation of the Regio V. They were related to the female world, used for personal ornamentation or to protect from bad luck. They were found in one of the rooms of the House of the Garden.
Placed in a wooden box, it has been restored and has been brought to its former glory by the restorers of the Laboratory of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. They were probably objects that the inhabitants of the house could not take away before they escaped.

The wood of the box has decomposed and only the bronze hinges remain, well preserved under the volcanic material.
Among the numerous objects found, two mirrors, pieces of necklace, decorative elements made of faïence, bronze, bone and amber, a glass unguentary, phallic amulets, a human figure and various gems (including an amethyst with a female figure and a carnelian with a craftsman figure). In a glass paste is engraved the head of Dionysus, on another a dancing satyr.
The high quality of the amber and glass pastes and the engraving of the figures confirm the importance of the domus owner.
Soon the jewels will be exhibited, with other Pompeian jewels, at the Palestra Grande, in an exhibition that will be a follow-up of “Vanity”, the exhibition dedicated to jewels from the Cyclades and Pompeii, as well as from other sites in Campania.​
The full article is at Pompeii Sites

This is a very illuminating “snapshot” of the life of one ancient Roman household on the day of October 24, 79 CE.  Perhaps the casket was filled in the chaos of the disaster while the owner attempted in vain to take some of her belongings with her to escape, only to suffer the fate of Vesuvius. Just imagine what archaeological evidence you and I will leave behind for some future archaeologist to discover, 2000 years into the future.

Pompeii was a city full of magic at every corner. Photo: Altar of the Temple of Apollo, credit: Faustus

Erotic Curse Tablet from the Heroön of Opheltes at Nemea

“Located in the southwestern part of the Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea (Fig. 1), the Heroön of Opheltes played an important role from the Archaic to the Early Hellenistic period, when the Nemean Games were held in the sanctuary.1 Its importance lay in the fact that the Games were believed in antiquity to have originated as funeral games in honor of the dead baby hero Opheltes, a connection made explicit in numerous literary sources and artistic representations. The shrine thus marked the location of his grave and served as the focal point of his cult, which entailed burned animal sacrifice, libations, and small votive offerings, as excavation of the shrine since its discovery in 1979 has made abundantly clear.”*

Sarcophagus showing the death of Opheltes

Bronze figurine of Opheltes, 300 B.C.E., Nemea

ἀποϲ{ϲ}τρέφω Εὐβούλαν
ἀπὸ Αἰνέα, ἀπὸ τοῦ̣
προϲώπο̣ υ̣ , ἀπὸ τῶν ὀ[φ-
θαλμῶν, ἀπὸ τοῦ ϲτόμ[α
τοϲ̣, ἀπὸ τῶν τιθθίν,
ἀπὸ τᾶϲ ψυχᾶϲ,
ἀπὸ̣ τᾶϲ γαϲτρ̣,
ἀπ̣ὸ τ]οῦ [ψ]ωλ̣ί̣ου, ἀπὸ τοῦ πρω-
κ̣τοῦ̣ , ἀφ᾿ ὅ̣λου τοῦ ϲώμα
τοϲ̣ . ἀποϲτρέφω Εὐβού-
λαν ἀπ᾿ Αἰνέα


I turn Euboula away from Aineas: from his face, from his eyes, from his mouth, from his chest, from his soul, from his belly, from his erect penis, from his anus, from all his body. I turn Euboula away from Aineas.

*Bravo, J. (2016). Erotic curse tablets from the Heroön of Opheltes at Nemea. Hesperia  (85), 1. 121-152.