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Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:38 pm
by Eve
Does anyone know of any extant examples of pilgrims' letters of permission to go on pilgrimage?
I assume they were in Latin, but was there a standard form or was it whatever the overlord wanted to say?

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 4:34 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
I think that in a book I have about the pilgrimage to Santiagio there is an image of a letter of proof from the pilgrim office to authenticate that someone from the early 16th century had made the journey (much like the certificates of pilgrimage that I have got from my visits to Rome and the Holy Land. Would this be any good?

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 5:39 pm
by gregory23b
I have had to produce a couple of putative English ones for a museum, but they supplied their own text, see below for

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 7:17 pm
by Eve
Thanks both.
I think I've come across the 'Santiago' one Marcus and, as you say, it's later, I'm looking for early 13th century.
Gregory, when you say they produced their own text, do you mean they made something up, or sourced an actual document?

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 10:44 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 7:07 am
by Eve
What are you sorry about Marcus, I really appreciate you taking the time to reply. :D

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 9:26 am
by Brother Ranulf

I think we had a conversation on this subject some time ago and at that time I had found nothing in my research to support the idea of widespread use of testimoniales in the 12th and 13th centuries - it was my belief that such things were almost certainly born out of the era of suspicion and mistrust following the Peasant's Revolt.

Although I continued to look into the subject, I have still drawn a blank in terms of evidence for the period you are interested in. No example of such a letter survives in the British Library's collection, nor in any of the University libraries (as far as I can find, anyway).

The Catholic Encylopedia article on pilgrimages goes into great detail about the dress and equipment of pilgrims (including the contents of the scrip), but makes no mention of letters of authority from bishops - indeed the emphasis is on pilgrim badges having the authority of a "passport". I have copied part of the article below in case you have not seen it:

"In older ages, the pilgrim had a special garb which betokened his mission. This has been practically omitted in modern times, except among the Mohammedans, with whom ihram still distinguishes the Hallal and Hadj from the rest of the people. As far as one can discover, the dress of the medieval pilgrim consisted of a loose frock or long smock, over which was thrown a separate hood with a cape, much after the fashion of the Dominican and Servite habit. On his head, he wore a low-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, such as is familiar to us from the armorial bearings of cardinals. This was in wet and windy weather secured under his chin by two strings, but strings of such length that when not needed the hat could be thrown off and hang behind the back.Across his breast passed a belt from which was suspended his wallet, or script, to contain his relics, food, money, and what-not. In some illuminations it may be noted as somehow attached to his side (cf. "blessing" infra). In one hand he held a staff, composed of two sticks swathed tightly together by a withy band. Thus in the grave of Bishop Mayhew (d. 1516), which was opened a few years ago in Hereford cathedral, there was found a stock of hazel-wood between four and five feet long and about the thickness of a finger. As there were oyster shells also buried in the same grave, it seems reasonable to suppose that this stick was the bishop's pilgrim staff; but it has been suggested recently that it represents a crosier of a rough kind used for the burial of prelates (Cox and Harvey, "Church Furniture", London, 1907, 55). Occasionally these staves were put to uses other than those for which they were intended. Thus on St. Richard's day, 3 April, 1487, Bishop Story of Chichester had to make stringent regulations, for there was such a throng of pilgrims to reach the tomb of the saint that the struggles for precedence led to blows and the free use of the staves on each other's heads. In one case a death had resulted. To prevent a recurrence of this disorder, banners and crosses only were to be carried (Wall, 128). Some, too, had bells in their hands or other instruments of music: "some others pilgrimes will have with them baggepipes; so that everie towne that they came through, what with the noice of their singing and with the sound of their piping and with the jangling of their Canterburie bells, and with the barking out of dogges after them, that they make more noice then if the King came there away with all his clarions and many other minstrels" (Fox, "Acts", London, 1596, 493).

This distinctive pilgrim dress is described in most medieval poems and stories (cf. "Renard the Fox", London, 1886, 13, 74, etc.; "Squyr of Lowe Degree", ed. Ritson in "Metrical Romanceës", London, 1802, III, 151), most minutely and, of course, indirectly, and very late by Sir Walter Raleigh:–

"Give me my scallop-shell of quiet.
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of Salvation,
My gown of glory (hope's true gage),
And then I'll take my pilgrimage."

(Cf. Furnivall, "The Stacions of Rome and the Pilgrim's Sea Voyage".) In penance they went alone and barefoot. Æneas Sylvius Piccolomini tells of his walking without shoes or stockings through the snow to Our Lady of Whitekirk in East Lothian, a tramp of ten miles; and he remembered the intense cold of that pilgrimage to his life's end (Paul, "Royal Pilgrimages in Scotland" in "Trans. of Scottish Ecclesiological Soc.", 1905), for it brought on a severe attack of gout (Boulting, "Æneas Sylvius", London, 1908, 60).

Pilgrim signs

A last part of the pilgrim's attire must be mentioned, the famous pilgrim signs. These were badges sewn on to the hat or hung round the neck or pinned on the clothes of the pilgrim.

"A bolle and a bagge
He bar by his syde
And hundred ampulles;
On his hat seten
Signes of Synay,
And Shelles of Galice,
And many a conche
On his cloke,
And keys of Rome,
And the Vernycle bi-fore
For men sholde knowe
And se bi hise signes
Whom he sought hadde.

(Piers Plowman, ed. Wright, London, 1856, I, 109). There are several moulds extant in which these signs were cast (cf. British Museum; Musée de Lyon; Musée de Cluny, Paris; etc.), and not a few signs themselves have been picked up, especially in the beds of rivers, evidently dropped by the pilgrims from the ferry-boats. These signs protected the pilgrims from assault and enabled them to pass through even hostile ranks ("Paston Letters", I, 85; Forgeais, "Coll. de plombs historiés", Paris, 1863, 52-80; "Archæol. Jour.", VII, 400; XIII, 105), but as the citation from Piers Plowman shows, they were also to show "whom he sought hadde"."

EDIT: I just spent a couple of hours trawling the Vatican Archives site, which is full of interesting stuff in the way of letters and seals. A search for testimoniales or pilgrim letters yielded no results, which must surely be significant.

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 2:04 pm
by Eve
Thank you so much for all the information, as usual so freely and authoratatively given, backed up by exhaustive research (a refreshing change from so many sites), and much missed by both FA in general and Eve and me in particular.
If I could crave you indulgence :D (pun intended) a little more,
what's your interpretation of the staff being two sticks bound together? Why wouldn't it be possible to have a single shaft of wood sufficiently thick?
If the pilgrim badge was the 'passport' where would the pilgrim get it? I understand that they would be available at the ultimate destination, but what about whilst travelling there?


Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 2:50 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Steve, speaking for the 12th century (i admit to being a complete dunce re later medieval) the two staves bound together does seem odd, but it is confirmed in a picture in the Saint Albans Psalter of around 1135. This shows Christ dressed as a pilgrim (the first and archetypal), bearing just such a staff - a very poor copy I did a while ago is attached. we can only speculate on why this form of staff was used - perhaps it was precisely because it was unusual, marking out the person as a pilgrim and distinct from any other traveller.

As to pilgrim badges, I looked out my notes on the subject, which say:

The later almost industrial production of pilgrim badges was not yet established. There were, however, the beginnings of the trade – a scrip bearing a red cross proclaimed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem , while one bearing a scallop shell indicated a pilgrim to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.
Visitors to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury could buy a small “ampulla” of holy water, worn as a pendant and believed to have curative powers. Such ampullae were often very cheaply made of tin/lead alloy, but expensive gold or silver versions also existed.
Travellers to Rome might buy very small replicas of the keys of St Peter or a leather pouch containing a tiny version of Veronica’s veil painted with the face of Christ."

So the cast metal badges were not yet produced, at least not in the way they were by the 14th century. Cloth crosses, real shells and other tokens such as the "vernycle" or painted version of the veil of Veronica would be readily available at the point of departure for pilgrims to take with them.

Looking again at Gerald of Wales' account of his 1188 journey around Wales to drum up support for the Third Crusade, he and Baldwin the Archbishop of Canterbury simply dished out cloth crosses for volunteers to sew on their cloaks or hats. The same principal may have applied in the case of ordinary pilgrims.

Click the picture for a larger view.

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 3:39 pm
by Eve
Thanks Dave
As with so many areas of history the more one finds out the less clear but more fascinating the picture becomes.

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 3:58 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
Thank you sir (or Brother, which ever suits you best).

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 5:15 pm
by Eve
Dave - it's Eve here butting in on Steve's thread - My boss has asked how did pilgrims know when and where to go to to start on a pilgrimage? Was there a set time and place for people to go in order to start the pilgrimage with a group of others? Was there a medieval version of Thos Cook?

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 6:13 pm
by gregory23b
" it was my belief that such things were almost certainly born out of the era of suspicion and mistrust following the Peasant's Revolt. "

My client had said the letter was more of a permission to wander, ie to not be done for vagrancy, with exactly that in mind, no one wanted people abroad with a good reason.

Eve, they did make the text up, as said above more of a permission to wander than a pilgrim's testimoniale, in this case it might be presented to various stops on the way, but that was the client's interpretation.

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 6:30 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Eve - What a great way to put it! :lol:

There was almost a 12th century version of Thomas Cook - or rather a set of handwritten guide books based on the journeys of earlier pilgrims. These were widely available and included maps of the route, descriptions of the scenery, tolls to be paid, places to stay the night, places to avoid, good eating places and hazards to be faced. I have a copy of part of a 12th century map from one of these "itineraries" showing the route from London to Jerusalem, with all the churches, towns and monasteries marked.

The distance between rest stops was a "journee", in other words a day's travel on foot or by boat (hence journey), so it goes London - Rochester - Canterbury - Dover - Witsant - etc. A mounted man could apparently average 35 miles per day.

Yes, pilgrims would naturally band together as much as possible for mutual protection, as would ordinary travellers such as scholars going to school in Paris or elsewhere in Europe. No doubt there were recognised starting points (as in Chaucer's story) where pilgrims would meet by chance and set off together.

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 8:07 pm
by Eve
Thanks, Dave, brownie points from the boss at school now!! :D
Eve x

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 9:14 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
There are some great 15th century ones too warning you about Basques being theives, the Navarese being incestuous, the Florintines being homosexuals, the Swiss being boors, the English being drunks, the French being snobs, the Flemish being cheats, the Romans being dreadful liars, the Scots being terrible cooks, the Serbs being Godless heathens, but the Venetians being sound as a pound.
No guesses who wrote that one.

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 9:21 pm
by Brother Ranulf
My money's on the Welsh . . .

Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 9:36 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
No the welsh are morbose and the irish talk too much (which as sure to God ahs got to be the damnest lie that I have ever heard in all my days upon the good Lords created earth so it has now.)

Posted: Sat May 02, 2009 11:39 am
by Marcus Woodhouse
On reading up on various confraterities that cities or guilds established to help pilgrims, including that french one that was set up by pilgrims for pilgrims, they cite a need for the pilgrim to prove he/she was a pilgrim or had finshed a pilgrimage.
In most cases a badge was enough but Jerusalem, Rome and Santagio also produced certificates. One of the problems with this was that there was a roaring trade in forged and second hand certificates (after all it entitiled the bearer to half a loaf and a glass of wine free! every day!)
Proof of being a pilgrim was, it seems, at least in my reaearch dressing as one, sometimes with a red or white (occassionally black or green) cross, sown onto the cloak or gown as extra evidence.
I have also come across the fear of "professional" pilgrim/huxters who were given the name "Camelots" (in England). These people seem to have lived by claiming to be pilgrims and gaining their entitlement of bread and ale and then making extra money by offering to say prayers, handling letters, selling religious tat passed off as relics or pilgrim badges or promising to bring back said tat for the piously guilable.

Posted: Tue May 05, 2009 1:56 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
1443-the self styled "Count of upper Eygpt" travels across Europe from eatern Germany causing all kinds of trouble with his "retinue" on a forged pilgrims pass written by the Pope himself!
the count of upper eygpt turns out to be a gypsy clan chief, his retine is made of his family, the pass is a forgery and he gets hanged for his sins.

I personally don't beleive any of it but its the best I can do.

Posted: Thu May 07, 2009 6:19 pm
by Eve
Dave -

Just been on the phone to Steve. He's been talking to Dr Carole Rawcliffe about the 2 staffs tied together & she says that it was 3 staffs tied together to represent The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost. He didn't get any sources though.


Posted: Thu May 07, 2009 6:42 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Thanks for that, it certainly makes sense. Pictures only show two staves, because the third would always be hidden behind them.

Learning new things all the time . . . :wink:

Posted: Thu May 07, 2009 9:14 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
Not testemonials as such but the Royal Chancellery issued three "Letters of Intent" during the reign of Henry VI and one during the reign of Edward IV specifically for individuals intending to travel to Santagio on pilgrimage.
These went to Nompar de Caumont a Norman or Breton in the sevice of Talbot (a reminder that by the dying years of the HYW many of the "English archers" in the service of the crown were French) in 1446 "to fulfill a vow made when recovering from wounds gained in our service". William Wey a royal chaplain atteched to Eton College in 1456, John Goodeyear of Chale, a priest in the royal household a year later. Finally Edward IV granted a letter of intent to Anthony, Earl Rivers in 1472.
Now, making a wild guess the link here is that all of these indivduals were either directly or indirectly in royal service, they were all also issued during years when the crown was either engaged in fighting or the threat of war was high. So this could (could) mean that you only needed a testemonial if you were in royal service (and needed royal permission to take leave) or might be needed as a soldier, or maybe both. Perhaps it was even something you asked for to prove you were not AWOL?
Just guesses. :?

Posted: Fri May 08, 2009 12:24 pm
by Colin Middleton
It may well be permission to not fight for my lord during x period, kind of like a leave pass in the army. I think that I've heard of such things before.

Posted: Fri May 08, 2009 1:26 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
Yeah. I thought it was possibly barking up the wrong tree.
In that case i can come across nothing resembling a testemonial.
I did try.

Posted: Fri May 08, 2009 5:05 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Thanks Marcus - all I could find on the Interweb was a mention on this website, which makes extravagant claims but carefully omits any sources (apologies if the people concerned are reading this):

The very fact that it talks about "medieval" as if it were all one static, unchanging period makes me very dubious. All forms of travel, including for trade as well as pilgrimage, were positively encouraged under the Norman and Angevin kings (Bartlett mentions numerous sources for this); I am not sure the same political conditions applied by the 1400s.

I also trawled through the National Archives catalogue online today without any success.


Posted: Fri May 08, 2009 8:46 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
Thats a site I came across but didn't feel happy about, though there was some stuff there that was worth the read I chance to add.

Posted: Sat May 09, 2009 3:01 pm
by Tom H
Hello All

Just been made aware of this and so I am brand new to this forum.

The website mentioned by Brother Ranulf is ours, thanks for spotting it. It's quite true that it is rather vague in the way medieval is described. For our purposes we tend to mean mid-late 14th century, when pilgrimage was perhaps at its height and Canterbury Tales being written. That said we're also involved in interpreting 13th century and 15th century sites in Cheshire too, so use the broader term.

Although we haven't quoted sources on the website, it's not really for that purpose, I hope we're not all too "extravagant" in what is said! The references to testimoniales in this instance do post date 1388, i.e. the passing of the Statute of Cambridge. This is often seen as the first Poor Law and was partly intended to limit the wanderings of beggars. Anybody who had a legitimate reason to travel, such as labourers, and in this case pilgrims, should therefore have a permit.

Despite looking for extant examples for a couple of years, I haven't come across any, so I would be thrilled if someone did find a reference. I wonder if, like other laws, it was not generally adhered to much in practice which would limit the amount of documents existing in the first place. The reconstructed example shown above is mine, thanks Jorge! As I couldn't find an example to base it upon, the content was comprised of quotes from a pilgrims' mass in the Sarum missal, a bit from the Canterbury tales, the aims of the testimoniales, and some local Cheshire references. I wanted the document as part of the "kit" of a pilgrim to work with schools and the public. It has been very well used and appreciated, but I always make it clear that this is a speculative reconstruction.

I'll briefly quote some references found in books. James Harpur, Sacred Tracks, Frances Lincoln, 2002 - "In England in 1388, Richard ii's Government decreed on pain of arrest that pilgrims should have special permits as well as passports if they wanted to travel abroad. Port officials who turned a blind eye to unlicensed pilgrims were liable to severe punishment....documents showed that pilgrims were not spies or outlaws or labourers illegally wandering off to seek employment with another landowner." And then, Sarah Hopper, To be a Pilgrim, Sutton, 2002, "First, the pilgrim required the permission of his overlord, bishop or abbot...if his journey was approved he would be given a letter of commendation to be carried with him. This document was important for three reasons... verified his purpose as a pious exercise...made him eligible for privileges..alms and lodgings...crucial symbol of status as a pilgrim. Under an ordinance of Richard II in 1388 a pilgrim could be arrested if discovered without this letter of testimoniales on his person. This was partly to discourage the abuse of pilgrimage by adventurers of less than pious motives."

I think Brother Ranulf is right in saying that wandering was encouraged in the previous centuries. The 1388 statute and need for testimoniales seems a response to the growing number of vagrants and the need to clarify genuine pilgrims.


Posted: Sat May 09, 2009 3:48 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Hi Tom,

Good to hear from you and thanks for the clarification, particularly regarding the time frame. I hope Steve (of "Eve and Steve") sees your post as it was his query originally and I think it will go a long way towards answering the question as far as 12th/13th century is concerned.

Thanks for your input - I might cross this off my list of things to continue to research as far as 12th century goes.


Posted: Tue May 12, 2009 8:06 am
by Eve
Thanks to all for your erudition.
As it turned out there was absolutely no in-depth questioning on the mechanics of pilgrimage,(ah the joys of television entertainment), but it made me feel more confident as a contributor and I have learned a great deal from all contributors and was pleased to stimulate debate.
Knowledge is never wasted, just gets utilised in other, sometimes unexpected, ways.