Medieval Writing
Seals of Clergy
Individual members of the clergy had their own personal seals, as well as using those of the institution to which they belonged.
seal of Aethelwold This seal, known from a matrix in the British Museum, is one of the earliest English seals of a bishop known, dating from the 9th century. Its simple design, with an inscription around the edge of the circular seal, is very different to the more elaborate seals of senior clergy, such as bishops or abbots, of later times.
Seal of Aethelwold, bishop of Dunwich.
seal of Bernard
seal of Theobald
At left, seal of Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux: centre, seal of Archbishop Theobald from a charter of 1149 (Christ Church, Oxford). (From Salter 1929): right, seal of Raoul, abbot of Saint-Vaast in Arras, France, of 1301. (From de Boüard 1929)
The official seal, or seal of dignity, of a high ranking clergyman was usually in the form of a large pointed oval. A common motif was a figure in ecclesiastical vestments and carrying the pastoral staff, in the act of benediction. The figure could be standing or seated.
seal of Roger The style persisted throughout the middle ages, but as with other types of seals, became more elaborate during the course of the 13th and 14th centuries. Architectural canopies appeared and heraldic motifs were displayed. As with secular and institutional seals, the similarity with the monumental forms of funerary sculpture is notable, despite the fact that the delicate seal matrices were created by engravers or goldsmiths.
Seal of Roger de Northburgh, bishop of Coventry, 1322-60.
The church was no less hierarchical than the secular feudal world, so the more senior the churchman, the more elaborate his seal might be, with the exception of the pope who preserved his dignity through antiquity and uniqueness. The seal of a cardinal at right presents a full architectural array, rather like a sculpted reredos or screen, with the Virgin and Child in the top tier under canopies, a row of saints in the second tier and the cardinal himself at the bottom flanked by heraldic shields and cardinal's hats. You had to have the right hat.
Seal of Juan de Carvajal, Cardinal Deacon of S. Angelo in Foro Piscium, later Presbyter Cardinal of St Cross in Jerusalem, from 1431 - c.1460.
seal of an archdeacon Seal of Richard Ravenser, archdeacon of Lincoln, who died in 1386.
The very formal seal of dignity extended down the hierarchy of the church to wherever there was an office of authority.This is a highly elaborate example of the official seal of the archdeacon's office. The Virgin and child stand under an architectural canopy with supporting figures at either side and two angels above. The shield of arms at her feet has three birds in a row along the top, probably a rebus or pun on his name, Ravenser. There are also two birds at the top of the shield. The archdeacon has combined aspects of his personal heraldry, representing his family position, with symbols of his dignity and rank in the church.
Other forms of the seal of dignity of senior clerics developed, including examples which displayed heraldic designs as their main feature.
seal of Robert The two sides of a late 14th century seal of Robert, Archbishop of York, from a facsimile.
seal of Robert
The example above resembles some secular seals, being round, with a shield set on a tracery background. The shield on the right bears the keys of St Peter, representing the dedication of the cathedral at York. The left side of the shield on the left indicates the status of the archbishop with a crucifix and pallium, the item of vestments which was worn specifically by an archbishop.
Some orders developed their own particular style, notably the Knights Hospitaller or Order of St John of Jerusalem.
seal of the master Two seals from the same document; on the left that of Roger de Molins, Master of the Hospitallers; on the right that of Prior Garnier de Neapoli of the Hospitallers, on a chirograph of 1185 (British Library, Harleian Charter 43 I. 38). (From Warner and Ellis 1903)
seal of the prior
Seals of members of this order tended to be round and to show a figure kneeling at a patriarchal cross. While the seal of the prior is a normal wax seal, that of the master is a leaden bulla attached by cords in the manner of papal seals. The designs are similar, although reversed, on each, but the example on the right is easier to make out.



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