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Feb 4, 2013

Flying penises of the Middle Ages

Yes, this is exactly what it looks like. It's a penis with wings from the British Museum. This little guy is a lead badge that would have been worn by pilgrims to medieval holy sites. They were so common back then that this particular item can't be dated with any precision. The most precise date the curators could come up with was 400-1500 AD.

There were many badges sold as mementos and good luck charms at pilgrimage sites back in the Middle Ages. Some were of eyes or legs to help with ailments to those particular body parts. These are still used in Mexico. The penis, however, was popular for giving luck and, of course, love and fertility.
This pewter phallus badge dates to the 15th century and sold for £190 ($300) at Timeline Auctions.
This one is a reproduction by Medieval Market of a Dutch flying penis dating to around 1375-1425.

Flying penises weren't always beneficial. At a witchcraft museum in Spain I saw a display telling how in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe, women would often go to work as fruit pickers away from home. Sometimes they'd encounter a flying penis and become pregnant. Whether the guys back home really believed this story or not is another question.

Flying phalli have a long history. They were popular with the Romans. This bronze tintinabulum form the first century AD was a common garden wind chime. They were a good luck charm and protected the household from evil. This photo was taken by Darren Foreman in the British Museum.

It seems strange that the Catholic Church would allow such randy items at its holy spots, but the church was a bit strange at times. There were abortionist saints, carvings of naked women in church, and all sorts of other craziness. One researcher even made the controversial claim that the Catholic Church allowed gay marriage.