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

Magical kolossos – 2nd or 3rd c. CE

Clay figure with 13 bronze pins, discovered with a lead tablet engraved with a binding spell. A Roman “love magic doll”, showing a nude female bound and stabbed with 13 pins. Found in Antinoopolis with a lead curse tablet, this artifact is likely dated to the 2nd or 3rd century C.E.
1. brain: only think about me;
2. eyes: only have eyes for me;
2. ears: only have ears for me;
1. mouth: only speak about me;
1. heart: only have feelings for me;
1. vagina: only have desire for me;
1. anus: only have desire for me;
2. hands: only work for me;
2. feet: never walk away from me…

Antinoopolis was the pageant ground for a lavish and outrageous new mystery religion to rise up at the dawn of the new celestial epoch, the Age of Pisces. The priests of Antinous were supported and funded well by the state, and worshiped in great luxury and delight. Here, the Pax Deorum thrived as the cult of Antinous strived to commingle all the cultures and religions of the Empire. They were Greco-Roman Pagans trying to uphold Olympus in the middle of the Egyptian desert, surrounded by wild Gnostics, austere Catholics, genius Mathematicians and natural philosophers, the Roman garrison and every assortment of conjurer, and prophet of debauchery that could make his way up the Nile.
The Priests of Antinous venerated the beauty of young men, as living examples of Antinous, one superb manifestation of which was held to be the Divine Ephebe in living flesh, a boy of about nineteen years of age, perhaps the winner of the Antinoean Games, who was worshiped as the carnal and spiritual habitation of Antinous the God. We can be certain that the elegant priests were of the doctrine of the Libertines, placed as they were on the very edge of the world, surrounded by unknown Africa, clinging to the edge of the fertile Nile, with endless desert all around. The citizens of Antinoopolis must have felt as though they were not part of the world, that they were special, not subject to the normal rules and customs, and that they were the champions of civilization in the very extreme of barbarity.

After his deification, the constellation of Antinuous was regarded in the West until the re-classification of common constellations by the scientific authorities of the 20th century

The priests of Antinous kept the fire of the name of Antinous burning by reciting his ceremonies and oracles with a combination of Greek Chant and Egyptian bells. Flutes and harps accompanied the gestures of their ritual. The Christian Fathers tell us that all inflamed with drink, the priests fell upon each other in unholy lust. The Ancient Priests were also well-known for their magical spells, and a papyrus fragment bearing an Antinous Love Spell survives to this day. Thousands upon thousands of pilgrims came to Antinoopolis over five centuries to worship the beautiful god, and to hear the sayings of the oracle. Toward the end, as the Empire disintegrated, Antinoopolis became a place of magic and superstition, and the evidence from this period is that Antinoopolis had become a market for charlatans.

Osiris-Antinous, the Egyptianized form of the Roman God. Found in the villa of emperor Hadrian, now at the Vatican Museum