Priory Seals

A Seal for the Priory 900 celebrations


Seals have been used since ancient times to impress a distinctive image in sealing wax to authorise documents. In effect the seal was the medieval equivalent of a signature.

The shape of seals in medieval times was significant. Ecclesiastical organisations, such as the Bridlington Priory, used elliptical (oval) shaped seals with pointed top and bottom. The shape is often referred to as a lozenge. Seals of this shape were also used by noblewomen, but most seals in use were circular. The sealing wax was usually red although green wax was used sometimes, most notably for government Exchequer documents. Individuals often had their seals incorporated into a finger ring. Important organisations had very large seals indeed.

The Bridlington Priory 1467 seal is described by the late Rev. C V Collier, an Augustinian, in his study of original medieval Burton Agnes Hall documents as, “Pointed oval about 2 x 1 3/8” ( 51 x 3.2mm). A figure of the Virgin crowned holding the holy child, within a niche; below is a figure kneeling before a prie dieu”. A prie dieu is a small desk to hold a book whilst kneeling in prayer. There is also a photograph of this seal in his work.

[However, the 1514 seal is described by Collier as, Pointed oval, 1 x 1 3/8” diam. Standing figure of the Virgin and Child. The Virgin is crowned, and the child has a circular nimbus, within a niche with elaborately crocketted canopy, and sides divided into two lights with traceried tops. The inner sides of the central niche is ornamented. There is no mention of the prie dieu.]

There was also a Priory seal with two adult figures in a double niche and a replica of the seal attributed to Prior Gregory, c.1180, has four heads in circles arranged on the traditional “pointed oval” shape.

The Prior probably had his own personal seal for use on his personal letters, etc. It is likely that the Priory seal was broken and remade with differences when a new Prior was elected, and this would explain the differences in the descriptions above. During a “visitation” to the Bridlington Priory by the Archbishop in 1321, effectively an audit of conduct and procedures, we hear that “Peter de Wynthorp had resigned the office of Prior and his resignation had been accepted by the Archbishop, his seal of office ought no longer to remain unbroken in his possession, and that having summoned him to chapter they were to receive the seal from him, and in the presence of the whole convent break it, and reduce it to a mass (et in massam redigatis).” Indeed it was normal practice in the secular world to break a seal when the person authorised to use it died.

Click on the seals at the top of the page to see the full picture.

Suggested Activities

  1. Design a seal for the Priory 900 celebrations – keep it simple!.
  2. Design a seal for themselves, incorporating items personal to them, or for the school.
  3. Transfer the design (s) to the cut surface of a large carrot (or potato) and cut away to leave the design (like a linocut)
  4. Stamp, using paint etc OR stamp into Femo (or other modelling medium)