Seal matrices are inscribed, flat-bottomed metal items used to make impressions on wax to create ‘seals’ – marks of authentication commonly appended to medieval documents. They are made, typically, of lead or copper-alloy and, more rarely, of precious metal. This example, dating to the early 13th century, is made of silver and was found last June by a metal detectorist at Hollingbourne in Kent.
The matrix is inscribed with a large central image depicting, in the lower section, a robed woman framed by a gothic arch. She is shown kneeling while praying to the enthroned Virgin and Child, who are depicted above her in the upper section of the device. Around the outside is text (inscribed in retrograde so that it would be the right way around on a seal) that reads: ‘SIGILL’MATILD’DECORDhVLL’ – abbreviated medieval Latin for ‘the seal of Matilda de Cornhill’.
Given the matrix’s 13th-century date, this Matilda (variant: ‘Maud’) is likely to have been Maud de Cornhill, steward of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, and wife of the High Sheriff of Kent and constable of Rochester Castle, Reginald de Cornhill (fl. 1187-1215). It is presumed that the woman shown praying is a representation of Maud herself.
The item is oval-shaped and pointed at either end, in common with other contemporary seals used by medieval priests and high-status women (though, generally speaking, seal matrices were more commonly owned by men). The image, a well-known medieval motif, may be interpreted as a sign not only of Maud’s authority, but also of her devotion to the Virgin Mary. Nevertheless, while the matrix survives, no documents have yet been found bearing this or a similar seal.
For more information on this find, see https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/1037926 or search for ‘KENT-876D2D’ on the PAS database.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is an initiative to encourage the recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. For more information on the Scheme, and to browse its database of over 1.5 million finds, visit www.finds.org.uk. Information for this find was provided by Jo Ahmet, Finds Liaison Officer for Kent.