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St Ursula badge donated to the Museum of Lancashire

10th December 2012

A unique and beautifully cast medieval silver badge has been donated to the Museum of Lancashire (MoL).

The badge is believed to be connected with the cult of St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins. It was uncovered in a field near Preston by Paul King, a retired logistics expert.

The badge is very similar to pilgrims’ badges, which were popular between the late twelfth and early sixteenth centuries. However, most of these badges were made of lead-alloy, not precious metal.

Valued at around £500, the badge was mistakenly believed to have been acquired by the British Museum, where it had been on display.

However, it has now come home to Preston and will be on temporary display in the MoL for two months. It will then be conserved before being displayed permanently in the museum.

Local firm Conlon Construction, who completed MoL's £1.7million redevelopment in November 2011, donated funds to enable the museum to keep the Pilgrim badge in Preston for the local community and visitors to enjoy.

Construction director, Michael Conlon, said: "The development of the museum was a wonderful project to be involved in and it was a pleasure to be able to donate the funds needed to enable the museum to keep such a rare and distinct artefact in Preston.

"Working closely with the museum, we have created an impressive space with exciting new exhibit areas and facilities, and the Pilgrim badge will fit perfectly in its new home. I definitely recommend people pay the attraction a visit."

Charlotte Steels, Lancashire County Council's museum manager at the MoL, added: "It's wonderful to have such a rare object donated to the museum and we are very grateful to Conlon for their generosity.

"These badges were sewn onto the clothing worn by pilgrims, who would buy a badge with a different image of a saint at each shrine they visited.

"The British Museum has suggested this particular badge, which probably dates from the 15th century, might be associated with St Ursula, the patron saint of students."

According to legend, St Ursula was a British princess who sailed to what is now Brittany, accompanied by 11,000 virgin handmaidens, to marry a pagan prince.

However, Ursula declared that before her marriage took place she would undertake a European pilgrimage.

After many adventures, Ursula and her followers arrived in Cologne, where they were all slaughtered by Hun tribesmen who had laid siege to the city.

Bones found in the city during the 11th century were declared to include her remains, and her cult subsequently spread throughout Europe.

A church in Cologne still holds her shrine and a whole chapel decorated with the supposed bones of her companions.

Click here for more information about the Museum of Lancashire.

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