Medieval Saints Foyer Case- By Louisa Emms, Masters Placement Student
This blog was researched and written by Louisa Emms, a Masters student at the University of Leicester who recently completed a student placement at the Yorkshire Museum.
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The theme of the display case is saints in medieval society. The purpose behind this foyer case display was to show the ways in which people in medieval society interacted with the concepts of saints. The objects shown in the case all have links to saints by either being a representation of one or by displaying a saint’s symbol. Saints being depicted on such common everyday items such as badges shows that they were a constant presence within medieval society. The power that Christianity has had over western civilisation for the last two millennium makes this statement unsurprising but it is still interesting to see the remains of medieval individual’s personal connections to their faith.
St James became the patron saint of Spain and there is an internationally famous pilgrimage dedicated to him there. This is called the Camino de Santiago and leads to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia which is where the remains of St James are allegedly buried. As is consistent on this portrayal of St James he is usually depicted with a scallop shell, this time with a scallop shell hat. This is due to a legend where a knight fell off a cliff near where St James was travelling by boat, St James saved the knight who emerged out of the water covered in scallops.
There is also a statue of a female saint believed to be St Anne. Anne was the mother of the Virgin Mary and the most famous depiction of St Anne shows her educating the Virgin Mary from a scroll, hence the scroll included on this statue. This is an important statue because the Virgin Mary is considered to be the most vital woman within Christianity, as the Mother of God. This represents St Anne moulding Mary into the woman who would bear the Jesus Christ.
The other badge on display depicts St Michael defeating Satan in the form of a serpent which represents the battle between good and evil which led to Satan and his angels being cast out of Heaven. St Michael is also known as Archangel Michael. In the Bible Michael is the most senior of Heaven’s angels. It is unclear as to the occasion a person would wear this badge, unlike the St James badge for example, but it would be used by the wearer to show others of their faith. It is possible wearers would use it as an expression of the triumph of good over evil and God over Satan.
There is also a ceiling boss from St Martin le Grand church in York. This depicts and angel holding a badge emblazoned with the Cross of St George. Interestingly, the legend of St George fighting the dragon is believed to have stemmed from a reworking of the story of St Michael fighting Satan, as shown in the previously mentioned badge. The symbolism of both an angel and St George’s cross is combining Christianity and patriotism and suggests that God is looking down over England.