I mentioned votive ships in a post some time back and while I was weeding my collection of notes and xeroxed articles from my college days, I came across a couple of pages I’d copied from Miracles and pilgrims: popular beliefs in Medieval England by Ronald C. Finucane. I don’t remember a lot of detail from that book, certainly not enough for a review, but I do recall that it was filled with statistics and numbers.
Thomas Cantilupe — bishop of Hereford and later canonized as a saint in 1320 — had a shrine erected after his death. In 1307, a papal delegation inventoried the shrine to see what offerings had been left by those seeking cures or other favors, or offering thanks for prayers answered, and they counted the following list of items.
- 170 silver ships
- 41 wax ships
- 129 silver images of various limbs
- 436 wax images of people
- 1200 wax images of body parts and limbs
- 77 figures of horses, animals, and birds
- an uncountable number of (wax?) eyes, breasts, teeth, and ears
- 95 silk or linen children’s shifts
- 108 walking sticks for cripples (presumably left by the cured?)
- three carts
- one wax cart
- 10 large square candles
- 38 cloths of silk and gold
- many belts
- 450 gold rings
- 70 silver rings
- 65 gold brooches and pins
- 31 silver brooches and pins
- diverse precious stones and other uncounted pieces of ladies’ jewelry
- iron chains left by prisoners
- anchors of ships
- lances, spears, swords, and knives
- uncounted coins
Silver & wax items are typically “votive” offerings that illustrate the favor asked or granted. A ship would indicate protection for a journey or more literally for merchant’s ship/shipment; body parts were those afflicted or cured. Such shrines also kept record books where miraculous cures and so forth were recorded, and these might be read by the skeptical or those hesitant to leave a valuable offering.
The candles would be used in the course of church services at the shrine, and wax items might be remelted to make more candles, or even to make new offerings that could be sold to empty-handed pilgrims. Precious metals were usually melted down after a while to fund further construction, pay the caretakers, and of course to line the coffers of the Church, although some items would be kept in perpetuity as tokens of famous cures or to advertise the potency of the holy dead. One must imagine such shrines were occasionally targeted by ruthless or desperate thieves.
The above inventory would certainly be quite a haul. And the bishop was not even a recognized saint at the time! The shrines of canonized saints must have been fabulously wealthy.
Challenge: who can add up the value of the above hoard in Gold Pieces (ignore the uncounted items!)