Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-2 (November 2009)Sebastiaan Ostkamp: The world upside down. Secular badges and the iconography of the Late Medieval Period: ordinary pins with multiple meanings

3 Conclusion

Secular badges provide us with a unique insight into the perceptions of ordinary members of Late Medieval society, which may only be understood in the context of their time. Contemporary standards and values were principally based on the omnipresent Catholic belief system. In depicting the inversion of the natural order, holy examples, like Mary, Agatha and Barbara, were contrasted with those who where less pure. Motifs representing this include penis and vulva worshippers who in pursuing brief earthly pleasures are serving the devil instead of focussing on an eternal life by the side of Christ and his saints. In this respect we may even doubt our interpretation of these badges as items of secular meaning. That the images are almost blasphemous indicates the absolute sway of religion in the medieval world, where even striking secular images served a religious function. One was probably so aware of the objective truth inherent to the belief in Christ, that counter-images were also clearly understood. Even though such images were not sanctioned by theologians, ordinary people apparently did not find them reprehensible. Moreover, illuminated manuscripts show us that this type of iconography was not restricted to the common people, although the elite used more bowdlerized versions. In the margins of illuminated manuscripts from the highest circles we find representations that originate from the same traditions. However, their importance appears to be less evident in this context. The location of these images in the margins seems to express the actual importance it represents for these groups. Important or not, these images were well understood by people from all sections of Late Medieval society and they provide interesting insights into how they may have perceived their world.

Sebastiaan Ostkamp,

ADC ArcheoProjecten,