Mottisfont seal matrix

The Mottisfont seal matrix is believed to be the only one of its kind in the UK to be reunited with its original home, five hundred years after it left. Image: National Trust, James Dobson.


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The National Trust’s Mottisfont in Hampshire purchased the matrix at Timeline Auctions’ February 22, 2022 auction for a hammer price of £2800 (or £3640 including fees).

The matrix, which is made of cast copper-alloy and dates between 1470-1520 was found by a metal detectorist just two miles away in the parish of Lockerley, which had been the site of a former medieval market.

The finder chose to offer the matrix at auction and notified the National Trust of their plans so they could prepare for the sale and were the successful bidder.

The national Trust said the small carved mould, measuring just 2.5 x 1.5in (6 x 4cm), is likely to have been used to authenticate indulgences when Mottisfont was an important Augustinian priory and a site of pilgrimage. 


The National Trust’s Mottisfont near Romsey, Hampshire. Image: National Trust, Robert Morris.

Indulgences were written pardons for sinful behaviour granted by religious institutions like Mottisfont in return for a financial donation. The documents were certified with a wax impression using the seal matrix. Later, the practice of selling pardons became embroiled in accusations of corruption – a major factor in the Protestant Reformation and the eventual closure of the priory at Mottisfont.

George Roberts, curator at the National Trust, said: “Although the seal matrix dates from late in the priory’s history it reflects the role the site would have played in medieval people’s lives since its foundation in the early 1200s. Pilgrims travelling between the great cathedrals at Salisbury and Winchester are likely to have passed Mottisfont and may well have stayed and worshipped with the community there.

“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. 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.”

The Mottisfont seal matrix

The Mottisfont seal matrix. Image: National Trust, James Dobson.


The seal matrix is inscribed in Latin with sigillu[m] officii prioris p[ri]oretas sce trinitat[is] de Motesfont, which means 'Seal of the Official of the Prior of the Priory of Mottisfont'. It features a carved depiction of the Trinity and a figure of a praying cleric, probably Mottisfont’s Prior or another member of the community.

It is believed that the Mottisfont seal matrix is the only one of its kind in the UK to be reunited with its original home, 500 years after it left. It is likely to have been taken to the medieval market at Lockerley by a canon, hoping to sell indulgences.

James Brown, an archaeologist for the National Trust, said: “It’s so wonderful to see this special find returned home.

“We are very thankful to the finder who did the right thing by reporting it to their local Finds Liaison Officer at the local council. This meant the find could be added to a national database and flagged to the National Trust, meaning we were able to start conversations about bringing this item back to its home.”

The matrix is now on display at Mottisfont.