A MEDIEVAL seal lost for at least 474 years has been found in a field in Cobham and returned to North Staffordshire.
The "seal matrix", a device used to create a wax seal on letters, was discovered earlier this year by a treasure hunter and identified as belonging to the now-defunct Priory Church of St Mary and St Wulfad's in Stone, Staffordshire.
The seal has now been returned for an initial three-month loan to St Michael and St Wulfad's Church, which stands on the site of the former priory.
Metal-detecting enthusiast Tony Burke, 69, from Cobham, who found the seal, said: "It is the most significant find I have ever made. As soon as I saw it I could see it was important.
"I referred it to the local historian in Surrey and the finds officer, David Williams, and it was identified as coming from Stone.
"The British Library has confirmed it as being significant and the seal was made in at least the 13th century."
The three-inch seal bears the inscription, in Latin: "Church of St Mary and St Wulfade, Matyr of Stone". It was used to prove letters carried the authority of the priory.
Cobham-based historian Dr David Taylor, 64, said: "It is very important and was unique to the priory. It is like your PIN number at the bank."
How it came to be in Cobham is unclear, but it is believed the seal could have been taken to Newark Abbey in Surrey after the Stone priory was closed in 1537, during Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries.
Dr Taylor added: "When Newark Abbey was dissolved a short time later, it was acquired by Sir Thomas Browne.
"It is very possible that it fell into his hands, or to his servant George Bigley, who lived in the manor at Cobham."
Dominic Combe, 56, owns the land where the find was made.
He said: "All these assets, including the priory, were sold off by a king who had spent all his cash.
"To find something so rare and special, which connects with somewhere as far away as Staffordshire, is wonderful."
Philip Leason, 59, an expert on Stone's history, said: "I'm delighted the people of Stone will be able to see this important artefact and I'd like to thank the owners for allowing the seal to come here on loan.
"We have got it on loan for three months, then we will be looking at possibly buying it."