Medieval Seal of John Messingham


A beautiful Medieval copper cast seal matrix, featuring a finely rendered intaglio decoration and a loop to the top for suspension. The matrix displays the engraved depiction of the Virgin Mary holding Christ as a child. Mary is portrayed standing, regally draped under a pointed arch, with two stars above. The composition is further enriched with the depiction of a tree or vine in the field. The owner of the seal is portrayed in devotion whilst praying at the base of the seal. An inscription runs across the border, stating: S’IOhisDEMESSINGhAM.

Date: Circa 13th century AD
Provenance: Acquired in the 1970's, found near Louth in Lincolnshire.
Condition: Extremely fine, complete and intact.


During the Medieval period, seals were widely used in trading to ensure the authenticity and security of a document or letter. Bronze and copper seals were a possession of the wealthy or of those in authority, since they cost more to produce than lead seals, and had a longer life span on account of the metal’s hardness. The social status of the owner was reflected in the size of the seal, with the combination of motif and text providing further insight into the owner’s identity, such as their place in a family. An intaglio made in relief is the most traditional form of dry seal used to make the impression on the paper. The common design of a seal comprises a graphic emblem in the middle surrounded by a text, which is called the legend, around the perimeter.

This seal’s legend refers specifically to its owner; John De Messingham. Messingham is a small village, situated in Lincolnshire. It is located 25 miles from the find site, the village of Louth. Little is known of John de Messingham other than he was most likely a monk in a position of authority. Remains of an Augustine priory and convent still exist near Messingham, known as Thornholme. Another known Cistercian abbey also existed near Louth and this could have also been the residence of the owner.

Regardless of his residence, it is unusual for monks, who have taken a vow of poverty, to have their own seals except when called upon to act as a witness or for matters of importance. His name, John De Messyngham (variant spelling) appears in a few charters from the early 14th century.

The short legend inscriped around the matrix shows signs of skill, especially in the rendering of the Ss’ and Ms’, which respectively have been given a double bar and are very narrow. Due to the size of the matrix and shortened legen has been used but the full inscription would stand for S[IGILLUM]’IOH[ANN]’ISDEMESSINGHAM, ‘The Seal of John of Messingham’ in latin.

To find out more about intaglios and seals, please see our relevant blog post: Seal Rings – Intaglios as Signatures.

Weight 8.7 g
Dimensions W 2.3 x H 2.1 cm

Christian Ideology