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Bronze seal-die of Inchaffray Abbey

 

Diameter: 6.900 cm

Gift of Maurice Rosenheim FSA

M&ME 1917,11-10,1

Room 40: Medieval Europe

    Bronze seal-die of Inchaffray Abbey

    Medieval, about AD 1260-1302
    Perthshire, Scotland

    This double sided seal-die was used by the Abbey of St John the Evangelist at Inchaffray in Perthshire. The Abbey at Inchaffray was a house of Austin Canons founded in 1200 by Gilbert, Earl of Strathearn. Since the Abbey was dedicated to St John the Evangelist, it is not surprising to find his symbol of the eagle used on one side of the seal die. The eagle holds a scroll which reads: I. PRINCIPIO. ERAT. VERBV ('In the beginning was the word'), the opening line of St John's Gospel.

    The other side shows a saint within an ecclesiastical building. He holds a book and a large quill pen or perhaps a palm branch, signifying martyrdom. Both would be appropriate for St John the Evangelist who the figure undoubtedly represents. The surrounding legend reads: + S' COMVNE: ECCE: SCI: IOh'IS: EWANGELISTE: DE: INSVLA: MISSARVM, naming the abbey and describing it as a place of frequent worship. Both inscriptions conform to the medieval system of word abbreviation commonly used in seal-dies because of the restrictions of space.

    After the eleventh century the practice of affixing seals to documents changed. The wax seal impression was no longer simply applied directly to the face of the document but could be attached by strips of parchment, leather or cords. Double-sided seals were a consequence of this. The Inchaffray seal die is constructed in a typical way, with the projecting pegs of one side designed to fit into corresponding loops on the other. The backs of double-sided seal dies are flat because the traditional method of securing an impression by pressing the soft wax into the engraved surface of a seal by hand was not adequate. Rollers resembling rolling pins had to be used.

    V. Glenn, 'Thirteenth-century seals - Tayside, Fife and the wider world', Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal, 5 (1999) pp. 146-162

    A.B. Tonnochy, Catalogue of British seal dies (London, The British Museum Press, 1952)

    J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)

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