Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 16 July 2020

The writing on the wall

I came across an article on the website of the BBC History Magazine the other day about the study of medieval graffiti in English parish churches. This is a topic in which there appears to be renewed interest and the article provides both examples and interpretation as to why they were made. It can be seen at Medieval graffiti: the lost voices of England’s churches in the Middle Ages. Rather like incised grave slabs from the period medieval graffiti have not, until relatively recently, attracted the attention that has been accorded to monumental brasses. That has now changed for both the professionally incised memorials and for the more improvised works of medieval people on the walls of their churches. They seem to be a record of popular devotion, and of human hopes and worries, not to mention sorrows and tragedies. They also raise the thorny old question of levels of literacy in the middle ages.

Reading the article set me thinking also about the topic and about other surviving examples. As far as I can see they are best documented in eastern England, but that may just signify that that is where the surveying and research has been done so far. 

The graffiti at Ashwell church in Hertfordshire have been known for a long time - most famously that of the medieval cathedral of St Paul in London. They are discussed in Medieval Graffiti Lines the Walls of This English Church. There is an account of the church itself at Church of St Mary the Virgin, Ashwell

The examples at Gamlingay church in Cambridgeshire are considered at Gamlingay

To the east in Suffolk are those at Lidgate, which I have posted about some years ago on this blog. Here the interest is that one might. just conceivably preserve the handwriting of local boy turned monk turned poet John Lydgate of Bury St Edmunds. This discovery is discussed in an article in the Guardian The message of love hidden in medieval graffiti. It is also covered in a piece on the BBC News website at Author linked to church graffiti

The Lidgate inscription is also considered in Lidgate St Mary’s ‹ SECRET SUFFOLK and in a post by Matthew Champion, the author of the first article that set me on this thread, on his blog about his work with the Norfolk and Suffolk graffiti recording project at Let's talk Lydgate...

Finally the theme is picked up and linked to manuscripts of John Lydgate’s poetry by the Library of Trinity College Cambridge in John Lydgate, Medieval Graffiti and Mythological Beasts

All of which means I really must look more carefully at the walls of medieval churches when I am out and about in the future.

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