Monday, 13 May 2013

Not Your Everyday Bishop's Seal

Called The Bishop's Seal, this is not your everyday run of the mill seal. Made of silver and three
centimetres in length, upon the surface you will see, if you look close enough, the image of two figures facing front on and holding their hands as if giving a blessing, whilst a third in the bottom of the image, kneels in prayer. Around the sides is an inscription in Latin, which translates to "Let the prayers to God of Germanus and Patricius help us". I am sure this is an inscription that stirs the imagination of all you history lovers out there. It stirs mine. When I first read it, my mind flew to a million places.

It is dated to the Fourteenth Century and as with so many of the greatest finds in Britain, it was found by metal detector enthusiasts (in this case Mr Andy Falconer and Mr Rob Farrer) in a field in the north of the Isle of Man.
Bless them, where would English history be without those 'honest' metal detector enthusiasts who seek items of wonder and share them with the world and museums, instead of those 'other types' who pocket their finds and sell them on to the antiquities market, where they are never to be seen again. But let's save that gripe for another day shall we?

Recently, The Bishop's Seal was not tucked away in a dusty rabbit warren archive by Manx National Heritage on the Isle of Man, luckily for the local peoples and for the tourists and lovers of history, due to its “incredible significance” it was on show and could be viewed by visitors to the island.
After all, as the curator of archaeology at MNH, Allison Fox, said: "It is a very rare find and an important part of Manx history” so these types of finds do need to be shared with the people and the local communities. There is nothing to be gained by cataloguing them in an archive. Not if the finds can be securely displayed in places where it can neither degrade nor be stolen.

To lend more clarity and emphasis to how truly important this find is for Manx History, Allison Fox also states that "Saints were very important people for the whole island. The Isle of Man has lots of artefacts from the Viking period and a few hundred years after but a find from this period is rare.
Most of our information for this period comes from manuscripts rather than artefacts."
I myself could present you with a dozen blog posts on the Viking finds made on these Isles. I would say the islands Viking heritage is its most renowned historic heritage, but this Bishop's seal, so rare and so dramatic in its design and wording, seems very special. Even to me, an amatuer in such matters.

Disappointingly, this is not one of those times where I can say that “If you are British, or travelling to Britain you can go see this Exhibition”. Because, sorry to say, the Exhibition has been and gone. The Bishop's Seal was a star piece recently in the Manx National Heritage's Forgotten Kingdoms Exhibition, which ran from November 2012 to March 2013.
It was an exhibition that profiled the history of the Kingdom of Man and the Isles from 1000AD - 1300AD.
If only I had found the story on the Bishop's Seal earlier, but, alas, life is full of little disappointments and this was one of them. All is not lost however. What you can still do is go visit the Manx Museum and see their other exhibitions. Or join up to one of their fascinating walking tours. One ship sails, another comes to port.

For more info on the Manx Museum:

- MM


  1. The Isle of Man has fascinated me for eons. Wrote a paper about the language, considered writing one about the archaeological sites that will not be dug... I'd like to visit there some day, Bishop Seals notwithstanding.

    1. I'm the same. I would love to go there too. So much history, sites and archaeology squished into that small area. It is an amazing place.