Medieval Church Graffiti:
the hidden history of the Parish church
with Matthew Champion
(Project Director, Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 28th March, 2015.
Today graffiti is considered both anti-social and destructive, and certainly not something we would encourage in our places of worship. However, this simply wasn’t the case in the Middle Ages. Recent large scale surveys have revealed that the walls of our medieval English churches are covered in tens of thousands of early inscriptions; most of which have never previously been recorded. This entirely new corpus of medieval material is giving us fascinating insights into the medieval parish, and the minds of those who inhabited it. The new discoveries include everything from prayers to blessings, demons to curses, and reflect just how members of the medieval congregation interacted with their church – as both a building and an institution.
09.50 – 10.15: Coffee on arrival
10.15 – 11.15: An introduction to medieval graffiti inscriptions. Why are we studying medieval 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?
11.15 – 11.40: Coffee break
11.40 – 12.40: Magic on the walls. The walls of our churches 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 systems and aspects of lay piety?
12.40 – 13.45: Lunch break
13.45 – 14.35: 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?
14.35 – 14.55: Tea break
14.55 – 15.45: The men of the stones. Alongside the devotional and religious graffiti inscriptions the walls of our churches are also covered in the markings left their by the men who actually built these amazing monuments to belief. Mason’s marks, building accounts and architectural designs are to be found in churches all across England. What can these new discoveries tell us about our medieval churches, and in particular how they were designed and built, and the men who built them.
c.15.45: Thanks and Close
About Matthew Champion
Matthew Champion is a freelance archaeologist, Project Director of the Norfolk and Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Surveys, and joint winner of the Awards for the Presentation of Heritage Research (2011), the Marsh Award for Community Archaeology (2013) and the Community Archive and Heritage Group Award for Innovation (2014). He also acts as national advisor on early graffiti inscriptions for a number of organisations including NADFAS. His latest full length work, Medieval Graffiti: the Secret Language of Churches (Ebury Press), will be published in the late Summer.
Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading
Champion, M., ‘The Medium is the message: votive devotional imagery and gift giving amongst the commonality in the Late Medieval Parish’, Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture, Vol. III, No. 4 – http://peregrinations.kenyon.edu/vol3_4/ChampionPeregrinations34.pdf
Champion, M., ‘Architectural Inscriptions: New Discoveries in East Anglia’, Church Archaeology 16 (2010), pp. 65-80.
Champion, M., ‘Medieval Graffiti Inscriptions found in All Saints Church, Litcham’, Norfolk Archaeology XLVI (2011) pp. 199-208.
Champion, M., ‘The Graffiti Inscriptions of St Mary’s Church, Troston’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology 43, 2, (2015), pp. 235-258.
Champion, M., ‘Ill feeling on the walls: late medieval graffiti curses from Norwich cathedral’, Norfolk Archaeology 2015.
Merrifield, R., The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic (Batsford 1987).
Pritchard, V., English Medieval Graffiti (Cambridge University Press 1967, reprinted 2008).