Imaginative Writing

Sometime during the 15th century a weary pilgrim returned from his visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham to his home in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. In one of his fields he carefully took the lead ampulla containing holy water and suspended on a cord around his neck, pierced a hole in the side, and allowed the liquid to flow onto the soil.

I assume for the purposes of this account, that the pilgrim was a man, but could equally have been a woman. He was tired because the journey, now easily accomplished in a few hours by car, had taken three days on foot, but he’d had the company of others providing both companionship and protection.

How do I know all this, and just how much is just conjecture and imaginative writing? Seasoned detectorists know the story because many have found discarded ampullae in fields (and from shrines other than Walsingham). The holy water sprinkled on the soil was to bless the crops and ensure a good harvest.

Des’s Ampulla

On a recent rally in Abingdon, detectorist Des Milkins of the Weston Historical Research and Detecting Association (WHRADA) found his first pilgrim’s ampulla. And what a beauty it was! The ampulla has its side loops missing, and depicts a scallop shell; the other side a crown over the letter W. The W is thought to refer to the Priory of Our Lady at Walsingham. It’s interesting to note that the scallop shell was a popular design on ampullae as the scallops wandering over the seabed could be likened to pilgrims wandering from shrine to shrine.

He told me:

“I was pleased with the fact that the ampulla was in quite good condition for its age. When I had a good look … I noticed that the scallop side had a hole in it and I could see what looked like the pellets on the back of a hammered coin.”


This is most unusual and the first time that I have heard of an ampulla containing coins. One of the three coins appears to be a Henry VI penny of the mid 15th century, and helps with an approximate timescale of deposit. I can only guess that the pilgrim/farmer wanted to be doubly sure of the efficiency of Our Lady’s holy water and added to its potency by adding the silver coins. Perhaps not!

Coins Found in the Ampulla. © Des

Pilgrimages and Saints

People often made journeys to a saint’s shrine – usually where the saint was buried, to pray for their help. Some shrines were famous for miraculous healing. Making a journey specifically to visit a shrine was called a PILGRIMAGE, and it is a common practice in many religions, although not often part of modern Christianity.

When a pilgrim had visited a shrine, and made their prayers to the saint, they would often buy a souvenir known as a pilgrim badge. these could be made in lead, bronze or even silver, depending on what the visitor could afford. Some shrines also sold holy water contain in an ampulla which was thought to have healing properties. A pilgrim could take back holy water to someone who was too sick to make the pilgrimage themselves, or to sprinkle on fields in hope of a good harvest.

Des and Jerry

. . . Sounds like one of my favourite ice creams!


Weston Historical Research and Detecting Association

Rating: 5 out of 5.

11 thoughts on “AWESOME AMPULLA :-)

  1. Thanks John a great factual story, I have found a few Pilgrim Ampulla’s over the years but only one was complete with handles and not squashed I donated it to the local village history group as I had found it in a local field.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever done a blog about things you haven’t found. Randy 🙂
    Well done on the donation – good PR too.


  3. I found a completely undamaged Ampulla some years ago, complete with its suspension loops.
    I gave it to the farmer with a written historical script as was and still is my practice with most finds.
    The thrill is in locating the item in question, its future remains with others to pass it down to future generation.
    Happy Hunting,

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sadly John your thoughts are possibly correct.
        I will verse my thoughts very carefully.
        The current general state of affairs in the land of our fathers and the country I served having taken the Royal Shilling gives me cause for concern.
        Still I will carry on regardless doing what I think is correct as our history and heritage is the envy of many.
        Keep Safe,

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I learned something new today, John.. I had heard the term ampulla before.. But mine was an anatomical term.

    Ampulla: In anatomy, a sac-like enlargement of a canal or duct. The ampulla of Vater is the enlargement of the ducts from the liver and pancreas at the point where they enter the small intestine.

    Just goes to show.. different meaning for the same term


    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think what impresses me more about these finds, is the detail that went into making them and the longevity of the items.

    I would imagine that 2000 years from now detectorists will still be digging up Roman finds, but what items from the 21st century will be found……….well aside from deeply buried Justin Beiber CD’s? LOL…..

    Liked by 1 person

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