Champion embarked on this fascinating project in 2010.
This survey is the first
of its kind to identify and record medieval
inscriptions in Norfolk churches*.
with great interest that 37 members and friends
listened to Matthew explaining
how the survey was conducted with (mainly) volunteers,
and showing us some fine examples
of these voices from the past.
appear to be far more widespread than was first
thought, scratched into the
fabric of our churches by the people who lived and
worshipped during this
period. Some 60% of the 650 churches studied in
Norfolk, Suffolk and North Essex
contain significant amounts of Graffiti.
The survey has perhaps created more questions
than answers. We will
never completely understand why these inscriptions
were created. Most
of the greatest treasures in our
churches - the stained glass windows, monumental
brasses, the magnificent
buildings - only tell the story of the top elite
parishioners of their time,
their power and their riches.
Graffiti is a fairly recent description, being
introduced in the 19th
modern perception of
Graffiti has not always been about graffiti seen with
positive acceptance, until perhaps this
summer when Banksy clearly visited the area and left
some very interesting
Street Art/Graffiti, which is very acceptable. There
are many different kinds of
inscriptions hidden within our churches and it is
because they are mainly
hidden that they have survived through the centuries.
By the year 1200 everyone
would have known someone who could read. By 1500
literacy among the male
population was probably between 10 and 25 per cent.
With that in mind it seems obvious that you
would want to perhaps
express your thoughts in this way.
It is the
Ship Graffiti which I find fascinating, especially as
we have one in our church
here in Martham.
These images are often
found in churches around the coast but they have also
been found inland.
The ships are shown as seagoing vessels, often
called Cogs. These were important trading ships
and could carry 200 tons of
cargo, widely used during the medieval period.
They were also built as
Yarmouth supplied 43 of
these ships in support of Edward III in 1340, so the
relevance of these
vessels were probably hugely important to everyone.
Again, we don’t know why they have been etched
into the stone but I would
like to think that prayers were offered for a safe
return or a good luck prayer
for an upcoming voyage.
Like today you
draw what is around you and what is familiar to you. It is
possible that these scratched
inscriptions were as familiar to medieval folk as
Ships', which were common place in churches as symbols
of Christianity and thanks
inscriptions the survey found included Christian
symbols, ships, important dates, faces from the
past - which indeed speak to us through the centuries
of their everyday lives and
the challenges they faced. In a church
in Cambridge there is an inscription of about sisters,
Cateryn, Jane and Amee who
all perished in the Bubonic plague outbreak of 1515.
It is believed that they
were children belonging to a tenant farmer who
attended the church. The parent's grief
is a fraction of the ‘Lost Voices of English Churches’
which still speak to us