“After class ended, when Matthew swung his sweater over his head, something shining and silver caught my eye. The object was tied around his neck on a thin leather cord. It was what he kept touching through his sweater, over and over, like a talisman.”
Matthew is a man of deep, deep faith. Yes, he is a scientist, too. There is no fundamental incompatibility between the two. Matthew came of age at a time when science and religion were both ways to see into the mind of God, and he has maintained his connection to both through the centuries.
When depicting Matthew’s religious beliefs, it was important to find ways for him to carry his medieval practices into the present. Pilgrimage, atonement, and religious objects like the talisman he wears after he meets Diana were all ways to connect with the deep roots of his faith.
In this case, the talisman Matthew wears is a coffin-shaped ampulla from Bethany. He purchased it at the shrine to Lazarus during the Crusades. An ampulla was a small hollow charm made out of lead, silver, gold, or even clay designed to hold holy water or oil. Not all pilgrim badges were shaped like ampulla. Some were elaborate filigree, others were shaped like shells as one of the most popular pilgrimage routes (then and now) was the road to Saint-Iago de Campostela and the scallop shell was his symbol.
Pilgrim badges were not only among the first mass-produced tourist “souvenirs,” they were also badges of honor. They were worn sewn to hats or clothing, around the neck on cords, and invited people to ask about your travels and to marvel at your religious faith. Matthew wears his for a different reason, as he explains to Diana: a reminder of the destructive power of anger.
Today, most of the ampulla that survive are fragments, dug up by metal detector enthusiasts and archaeologists. They tend to look like the specimen on the left, all worn and faded. Once they would have looked like these replicas that you can purchase today from Canterbury Cathedral and other religious sites throughout the world. You can buy a modern interpretation of Matthew’s ampulla from Cadsawan Jewelry, http://shop.cadsawan.com/