Protective Sigil: Shield and Badge

The principal objective is to analyze two literary pieces, one Medieval and one Renaissance, and see the authors’ use of physical experiences to illustrate a spiritual belief. This paper will discuss how materialistic items are used to represent worldliness, in addition to how moral and religious allegory utilized for the physical and spiritual protection with a sigil. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a sigil is “2.A sign or image considered magical,” often believed it was a sign of protection or as a ward against evil (“Sigil”).

Numerous Medieval and Renaissance literary works that use protective sigil on worldly items to represent spiritual and physical needs. Two poems that hold true to this includes Sir Gawain and The Green Knight and The Faerie Queene, Canto I. Both works pieces depict a knight with a shield and badge with a protective sigil. In the Sir Gawain poem, the knight is Arthurian, with Solomon’s Signet, a pentangle, on the front of the shield and embroidered on his badge. On the back of Sir Gawain’s shield is the image of the Blessed Mother Mary (Sir Gawain, 620-669). In Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene, the Redcrosse Knight is a Templar, and his shield and badge are that of a “bloudie Crosse” (Faerie Queene, 1:2).

In both literary pieces, the shield and badge represent a materialistic item with spiritual significance. A shield in the Medieval and Renaissance age was expensive and only given to those recognized as a knight. The shield is utilized for personal protection in a physical battle, but its religious significance is its offer of protection from spiritual battle (cf. Eph 6.10-3). The material to make the shield and badge would be of exceptional quality and expensive.

The Medieval shield was used primarily for defense purposes, and to display the coat of arms and the wealth of the owner (Kelly). In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the shield is described as “shining scarlet,” with a “pentangle in pure gold,” a “…star on the spangling shield…shone royally, in gold, on a ruby red background” (Sir Gawain, 619-620; 662-663). Sir Gawain’s shield would probably have been kite-shaped with rounded upper edges, a boss, which is an indentation for jousting, and an outwardly convex shape (Kelly). The pentangle on the shield and badge would have been tooled and stained or inlaid with jewels. The pentangle symbolized the ideal of perfection that is beyond achievement but is striven for. The back of the shield with the image of Blessed Mother would have been made out of molded leather. These worldly details reveal religious protection through the faith of Sir Gawain. A knight would swear allegiance to G-d first and the king second.

Worldliness is also observed in Sir Gawain through the “green silk girdle trimmed with gold” that is presented to Sir Gawain by Bertilak’s wife (Sir Gawain, 1830-1869). A girdle in Medieval time was a belt that was used to carry materialistic items like coins. Bertilak’s wife claimed that the knight who wore this would be protected from death, another spiritual sigil entwined in a worldly thing.

The Renaissance shield carried by the Redcrosse Knight would have been more decorative, rather than used for protection. This is due to the development of body armor that was platted. The shield can be described as “silver shielde with cruel marks of many a bloudy fielde” (Faerie Queen, 1:1). His shield would have been known as a “pavise, a long, generally rectangular or oblong shield…” (Kelly). The pavise shield would have the coat of arms, a Biblical or religious theme, a political stance, etched or painted on. Redcrosse’s shield with the Crusader Cross, also known as St. George’s Cross, in the center was considered a Biblical theme that stood for “his dying Lord” (Faerie Queen, 1:2).

Worldliness is seen in the various characters that the Redcrosse Knight confronts – Luciferia, the pride of luxury and worldliness, Orgogilo, the pride of brutality, Archimago the sorcerer, and many others. Redcrosse being imprisoned is a type of captivity of true religion under the temporal power of corrupt churches. Worldliness is the major theme in the Faerie Queene, and it entraps all to some degree. It takes faith to loosen the chains of worldliness.

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the spiritual protection is represented by the two religious sigils, Solomon’s Pentangle and the image of Blessed Virgin Mary. Sir Gawain adopted Solomon’s Pentangle for his coat of arms, “…scarlet shield with its pentangle painted in pure gold” (Sir Gawain, 619-620). The pentangle is a “five-pointed star with each line overlaps with the last so is ever eternal…name of the endless knot” (Sir Gawain, 627-629), a symbol of integrity. According to poem it represents a five-fold concept (“five sets of five”): (1) “five senses”; (2) “five fingers were never at fault”; (3) “faith was found in the five wounds of Christ”; (4) “fortitude in the five joys which Mary had conceived…”; (5) Knightly virtues, “generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry and piety” (Sir Gawain, 640-660). The five-pointed star dressed the front of his shield and badge. Therefore, it was evident that he held a high regard for religious symbolism and meaning. This pagan or religious symbol represents the virtues and ideal characteristics of a knight. Its presence on his armor and clothing serves as a reminder and better assurance of honor and virtues.

The Redcrosse Knight silver shield bears the emblem of Saint George, patron saint of England, the red Maltese cross on a white background; this symbolizes Christ blood and Crucifixion. For the spiritual sigil, the red cross acts as a reminder of protection and salvation.

The color silver across all three main faiths has spiritual qualities. In Christianity, it means truth, age, and wisdom.

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one aspect of worldliness manifested through physical experience was the plot of the story, which starts with the beheading challenge given by the Green Knight. The challenge is two-fold first was to cut off the Green Knights head and the second was the condition that in a year and a day, Sir Gawain would come to the Green Knight Chapel to be beheaded.

This challenge required Sir Gawain to travel, where he encounters Bertilak, who challenges him to a swapping game. Bertilak challenge was the exchange of gifts each day upon return from a hunt. Gawain was to give his host anything that was won in the castle. Each day the wife would try to seduce him and gave him a kiss, so in return, he gave Bertilak a kiss.

In “Fairie Queene,” one aspect of worldliness manifested through the physical battles that the Redcrosse Knight faced. In the first battle with the dragon, Errour demonstrates the importance of faith in a physical fight. Redcrosse must realize that faith can help to discern between falsity and truth, which helps him to maneuver around the enemies through the use of spiritual weapons, not physical weapons. With both, we see the writers use physical experiences to illustrate a religious belief.

The Gawain-Poet’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a secular exploration of manners and society and set against a backdrop of the chivalric quest. The poet gives different aspects of Christianity, paganism, salvation, and temptation. The Christian knight, Gawain, experiences worldliness through the temptations, through the errors made, through repentance, and finally through forgiveness.

Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene is an allegoric poem that showed his belief in the errors of Catholicism and truth in Protestantism. It begins with a shared understanding of spiritual warfare between the Protestants and Catholics. They both agree with St. Paul’s use of military imagery in Ephesians 2. Spenser’s writing draws on this and gives a Protestant emphasis through the value of faith as a crucial aspect of spiritual armor. Both Gawain-Poet and Edmund Spenser see the issues similarly through the aspect of spiritual warfare. They both agree that worldliness brings battles and repentance bring forgiveness.

Works Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages. Vol. A. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.

—. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century and The Early Seventeenth Century. Vol. B. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.

Kelly, Patrick, Greyson Brown, Sam Barris, Nathan Bell, Bill Grandy, and Alexi Goranov. “The Shield: An Abridged History of its Use and Development.” myArmoury. 2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.

“Middle English Language.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.

Vaandrager, F. “Badges.” The Religious and Profane Medieval Badges Foundation, 2015. Web. 6 Oct. 2016.

Williamson, Allen. “Biography of Joan of Arc.” Joan of Arc, 2015. Web. 6 Oct. 2016.



You present some fascinating information about the sigils here, that develop the point that a worldly object (even one of great value) can have even greater importance as a spiritual sign. Develop your analysis of passages from each text – paragraph;s need to be fleshed out with more explanations and detail. Nice job!

Dr. M