Art of the Sigillum

In my collection of old prints I have the image of two sigilli or seals. A sigillum is a device for making an impression in wax, clay, paper, or some other medium, including paper. It is also the impression which is made.  Originally used to authenticate a document or its wrapper or possibly a package holding valuables or other objects.  Most seals have always given a single impression on an essentially flat surface, but in medieval Europe two-sided seals with two matrices (faces) were often used by institutions or rulers (such as towns, bishops and kings) to make two-sided or fully three-dimensional impressions in wax, with a “tag”, a piece of ribbon running through them. These “pendent” seal impressions dangled below the documents they authenticated, to which the attachment tag was sewn or otherwise attached (single-sided seals were treated in the same way).  The importance of the seal as a means of authentication necessitated that when authority passed into new hands the old seal should be destroyed and a new one made.

Sigillum of Ely Cathedral - side A

Sigillum of Ely Cathedral – side A

Sigillum of Ely Cathedral - side B

Sigillum of Ely Cathedral – side B

We see the #ElyCatherdalChapterSeal – the sigillum of #Etheldrda foundress of the monastic community at #Ely which later became the site of the bishop’s throne making Ely a cathedral.  I can find little information on the seal and so believe it lost. I have found only one image of this seal on line and it is a very poor image itself.  There is one more sigill on the print and that is the seal of Clare College in Cambridge.  possibly a single sided seal for only one side appears to be imaged.

Seal of Clare College, Cambridge

Seal of Clare College, Cambridge

Sigillum of Ely Cathedral and Clare College

Sigillum of Ely Cathedral and Clare College

Together on a very old page, they are part of history – images from history which are rarely seen today.

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