Medieval Graffiti: A Window into the Past
with Matthew Champion (Norfolk & Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Survey)
at the School of Music, Woodbridge School, Burkitt Road, Woodbridge IP12 4JH,
on Saturday 2nd March 2019.
Recent archaeological research has revealed that the walls of our medieval English churches are covered in thousands of early graffiti inscriptions, markings that can shed new light on to the hopes, fears, and dreams of the medieval congregations.
10.00 – 10.30: Coffee on arrival
10.30 – 11.30: An introduction to medieval graffiti inscriptions. Today graffiti is seen as something that is destructive and anti-social, but has this always been the case? How have attitudes towards historic graffiti changed – and why? What can we learn from studying historic graffiti inscriptions? Are they just the idle doodlings of bored choirboys or do they have a deeper significance? Who made them, when where they made – and what do they mean?
11.30 – 12.00: Coffee break
12.00 – 13.00: Defence against the dark arts. The walls of our medieval churches and houses are covered in witch marks and charms, prayers and curses, much of which falls well outside the traditional boundary of the orthodox church. Are these then the physical evidence for the use of magic in the Middle Ages, or do they simply reflect the complexity of medieval belief in ritual protection?
13.00 – 14.00: Lunch break
14.00 – 14.45: Medieval ship graffiti. One of the most widespread types of medieval graffiti; found from the north of Scotland to the south coast. They are found clustered around medieval sea ports and as far inland as central Leicestershire. But what do they mean? Are these simply pretty pictures of medieval ships or did they have a deeper meaning and function?
14.45 – 15.15: Tea break
15.15 – 16.00: Leaving your mark. Historic graffiti has long been regarded as people simply leaving their marks on the stones. But to what extent is this the case? Do these inscriptions really form and act of commemoration or memorialisation, and how has this changed through the centuries? Why is it that graffiti increases at times of national or social stress, and what can this tell us about the times people lived through? From the death of a single child, to the destruction of an entire village, we explore the informal commemorations recorded on our walls.
16.00: Thanks and Close
About Matthew Champion
Matthew Champion is a multi-award winning historian and archaeologist, Project Director of the Norfolk and Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Surveys, and national advisor on early graffiti inscriptions for a number of organisations. He makes regular appearances on television and radio. His most recent projects include multiple surveys for the National Trust and the Churches Conservation Trust, and the award winning ‘Knole Uncovered’ project. His latest full-length work, Medieval Graffiti: the lost voices of England’s churches was published in 2015.
When asked at a previous Study Day by Rory ‘What was best about the day?’ people replied:
- This is one of the best lectures I have attended – that is not to say that there was anything wrong with the others. It was a fresh topic, clearly presented
- A very interesting and well presented talk rather different to our usual Study days. It good opportunity to learn about a new subject of archaeology
- The scope of speakers knowledge
- Brand new topic easily accessible for the amateur
- Speaker and subject. Excellent day, thank you.
- The knowledge and fluency of the speaker
- Very successful day. So glad we squeezed in. Fascinating ‘new’ subject and brilliant introduction to it
- The whole thing!
- Whole day absolutely fascinating so impossible to pick out any one thing
- Enthusiasm and knowledge of presenter
Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading
- Champion, M., “The Graffiti Inscriptions of St Mary’s Church, Troston”, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, Vol. 43, no.2, 2014
- Champion, M., Medieval Graffiti: the lost voices of England’s churches (Ebury Press, 2015)
- Fleming, J., Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England (Reaktion Books, 2001)
- Pritchard, V., English Medieval Graffiti (Cambridge University Press, 1967)
- Wood, F. C., “Medieval Graffiti at New Shoreham, St Mary de
- Haura” http://shoreham.adur.org.uk/st_mary_graffiti.htm
- Also of interest is the historic graffiti issue of Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture 6, 1 (2017)