Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire, England.
Source – Kate Jewell, CC SA 2.0.
A Stamp for papers that enabled one to have a ‘fast-track’ through purgatory will be on show at a Hampshire priory.
The rare seal was found by a metal detectorist just two miles from Mottisfont, an Augustinian priory and site of pilgrimage near Romsey, Hampshire, after spending about 500 years buried in a field, according to The Guardian.
The rare seal matrix, made of cast copper-alloy, is inscribed in Latin and features a carved depiction of the Trinity and a figure of a praying cleric.
The small carved mold, dating between 1470 and 1520, was stamped on “indulgences” otherwise known as written pardons for sinful behavior granted by religious institutions in return for a financial donation.
The indulgences were supposed to lessen one’s time in purgatory by one year and 40 days, an individual’s time in purgatory after their death.
George Roberts, curator at the National Trust, said: “All this was done to help secure a place in heaven after their death. However, before they could reach heaven, they believed they would need to spend time in purgatory to be purified.”
The document certifying this purchase was certified with a stamp or impression that was created using the seal matrix pressed into hot-colored wax.
While it is now operated by the National Trust, Mottisfont was founded in 1201 and was a wealthy institution. however, its income was depleted as a result of the Black Death plague that swept through Europe in the 1340s.
Following this, the pope granted the institution permission to sell indulgences to raise funds.
“By being able to sell indulgences, Mottisfont priory could offer people a reduction in their time in purgatory—in effect, fast-tracking them to heaven. This of course came with a price, which was then used to support the priory’s finances,” says Roberts.
Fueling the Protestant Reformation
Depending on whether you believe in the concept of heaven and hell, you can be sure that human nature being what it is – it wasn’t too long before the practice of selling these pardons became embroiled in accusations of corruption that ended up helping to fuel the Protestant Reformation.
Adding to the bitter accusations, in 1517, Pope Leo X offered indulgences for those who gave alms to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The aggressive marketing practices of Johann Tetzel in promoting this cause provoked Martin Luther to write his Ninety-five Theses.
In the Theses, Luther condemned what he saw as the purchase and sale of salvation. In Thesis 28 Luther objected to a saying attributed to Tetzel: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”
Mottisfont priory was dissolved in 1536 and Henry VIII gave Mottisfont to a favored statesman, Sir William Sandys, who turned it into a country home but, rather unusually, chose not to demolish the existing priory.