Seals to Shed Light on Life in Wales in Middle Ages; EDUCATION WALES Researchers Will Study Thousands of Examples in Collection at National Library

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 19, 2009 | Go to article overview

Seals to Shed Light on Life in Wales in Middle Ages; EDUCATION WALES Researchers Will Study Thousands of Examples in Collection at National Library


Byline: Moira Sharkey Education Correspondent

HISTORIANS will be reviewing more than 5,000 medieval seals relating to Wales, held at the National Library of Wales, as part of a new research project.

The team from Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities will look at the seals - used to authenticate and close documents - to find out what they actually tell us about the people who commissioned them, interpreting how they saw themselves and wanted others to see them and what they can tell us about the society that produced them.

Uniquely, one strand of the project will also be concentrating on images of medieval women.

The project is funded by an Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) research grant of pounds 490,000. Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities are collaborating their expertise for the work. The research project also includes digitising the collection, making it more accessible to the general public and creating a travelling exhibition based on the collection.

At a time when only kings or the very powerful of the day could expect to commission a portrait or be pictured in a rare book, the image on your seal was one way of visually expressing your standing in society. The seal of a town corporation, for example, might show a castle tower and walls and that might be because they were proud to be defined as a borough.

"In the past the seals have been appreciated for their pictorial beauty," said Sue Johns of Bangor University's School of History, Welsh History and Archaeology. "We will be looking at the way the images were used to provide a sense of identity.

"Seals moved from being something that only the highest in the land had at the beginning of the 12th century to a must-have status symbol by the end of the thirteenth. The 12th century marks a period of transition from an oral culture to a written one so seals were being used more often to authenticate written land transactions and so forth. …

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