Medieval seals

25 April 2012

A twelfth century seal.
A twelfth century seal.

A five-month exhibition showcasing the research of Aberystwyth and Bangor universities into medieval seals in Wales from 1200-1550 will be officially opened on Friday 27th April at the National Library of Wales.

The exhibition, Seals in context: Medieval Wales and Welsh Marches, is housed at the National Library’s  Hengwrt Gallery and runs until the end of September 2012.

The ‘Seals in Medieval Wales’ (SiMeW) project, undertaken by the Department of History and Welsh History at Aberystwyth in collaboration with the Department of History and Welsh History at Bangor University, is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The project has been running since September 2009 and has recorded around 3,500 seals from across Wales and the Marches in order to explore aspects of medieval society and economy, politics, religion and expressions of identity in new ways.

The exhibition offers an early opportunity to present some of the rich material contained in medieval seals. Seals shed light on many aspects of medieval society, including representations of personal identity, expressions of faith, portrayal of lineage and the circulation of ideas.

Professor Phillipp Schofield, the Principal Investigator on the project from Aberystwyth University, explains, “Historians’ attention has often focussed upon the seals of the great, of which a good sample feature in the exhibition. They include the seal of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, prince of North Wales in the early 13th century, and the lead seal of the Papal Bulla of Pope Innocent III, also of the early 13th century.

“Not to be overlooked, though too often they have been, are the seals of those of lower status including townsmen and women and peasants, with their myriad and enticing motifs: hares riding hounds, grotesque figures, hunting scenes and so on.

“These are also fully represented in the exhibition and in the associated publication which will be available to support the exhibition.”

Dr Sue Johns, Co-Investigator on the project from Bangor University, said: “We were pleased that the project has confirmed what we were hoping to find out - although there is still much to be learnt.  I hope visitors to the Exhibition will gain a better insight into everyday life in Medieval Wales from what the Seals can reveal.”

Andrew Green, Librarian of The National Library of Wales, adds, “We are very proud to be a part of this important conference and exhibition. As our 2008 publication, Images of Welsh History – Seals at the National Library of Wales by David H. Williams outlines, our collection of seals are an integral part to understanding and appreciating the variety of Welsh society over the ages.

“The exhibition is also one which will be enjoyed for the aesthetic merit of the seals themselves and for their important, and sometimes, quirky reflection of Welsh life.”

While the focus is Wales and its border, SiMeW’s scale will enable this project to inform future studies of the use of seals in the UK and beyond in terms of methodology and the interpretative content of the outputs.

Seals have been used for authentication across different cultures and to validate documents throughout Europe and the wider world for many centuries. Medieval seals provide a special view of institutional and individual concerns and support interdisciplinary interests for today’s researchers at all levels.

As part of an attempt to improve awareness of this exciting and varied source, the project team will be taking a travelling version of the exhibition to various archives and repositories as well as the National Eisteddfod during the summer.  

The team will also be seeking opportunities to liaise with local schools in the coming months to illustrate the potential of this material for a fuller and richer understanding of our shared heritage.

The project team consists of Professor Phillipp Schofield from Aberystwyth University, Dr Sue Johns of Bangor University, and researchers Dr Elizabeth New and Dr John McEwan also at Aberystwyth University.

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Contacts

Professor Phillipp Schofield,
Department of History and Welsh History
01970 622660
prs@aber.ac.uk