Medieval Graffiti
July 12, 2016 8:18 PM   Subscribe

"The past five or six years have seen a massive rise in one particular area of medieval studies – an area that has the potential to give back a voice to the silent majority of the medieval population. New digital imaging technologies, and the recent establishment of numerous volunteer recording programmes, have transformed its scope and implications. The first large-scale survey began in the English county of Norfolk a little over six years ago. The results of that survey have been astonishing." posted by jedicus (24 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wonder how the people who made the "witch marks" in churches that were torn down during their lifetimes felt about it. If they really were personal, direct appeals or proclamations to the divine, marked indelibly on what probably seemed like a building that would last forever, seeing the structure fall might have been devastating.

Or, possibly, the act of making the mark was the important part? I don't know. Thanks for the post, super interesting!
posted by clorox at 9:04 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Kilroy waf here
posted by blue_beetle at 9:47 PM on July 12, 2016 [41 favorites]


Interesting, thanks! Such graffiti goes back way further of course; in doing research on palindromes, I've found that many of the oldest known examples were found as graffiti at Pompeii and at other ancient locations.

I also found out today that one popular form of graffiti in Pompeii was the election poster. Many of the oldest palindromes surrounded such posters and seem to have served as a sort of show-off stunt by scribes who wrote them, to demonstrate their learned writing skills.
posted by msalt at 12:53 AM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


We've had scribbling wankers making the place look untidy throughout history it seems.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:57 AM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Fascinating, thank you!
posted by carter at 2:53 AM on July 13, 2016


Thanks for this.
posted by Leon at 3:03 AM on July 13, 2016


The site behind the first link has an onward link to the project director’s blog, which is also very interesting. I was struck by the opening of the June 28th post The death of heritage (part 2): playing in the ashes of the past...
It is a recognised historical fact that there are times when people are more likely to create graffiti than others. Times when society is under stress, when things are going wrong, and the people feel helpless to do anything about it. They are invariably times of conflict, either physical or social, which we term 'chronological hotspots'. Just as there are places and locations that are more likely to attract graffiti than others, there are also period of history too. You'll recognise the dates in many cases. 1939-45, 1914-18, the middle of the seventeenth century, the middle of the sixteenth century - and of course 1349. Put simply, when things go bad, when chaos comes knocking, people start writing on the walls.
I'm expecting a really good crop of graffiti from the last week. A large and REALLY good collection…
And, later in the same post: ‘History is great to study - but really rather crap to actually live through.’
posted by misteraitch at 3:31 AM on July 13, 2016 [19 favorites]


So interesting! How rarely when looking at medieval religious art do we think about the colors they had in colorful churches. Graffiti as devotion, making symbols through the color to reveal white stone, as prayer or protection is fascinating.
posted by ceramicblue at 5:12 AM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Here may be found...

"...the last words of Joseph of Arimathea:

"'He who is valiant and pure of spirit...

"'...may find the Holy Grail...

"'...in the Castle of Aaargh."'
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:49 AM on July 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


When I was in London in the late '90s, we went to the Tower. I saw some prison graffiti dated 1583. It's not a small thing when something written on the wall predates your nation by two hundred years.

Then we went to a restaurant that had an actual Roman wall in it, and my worldview got smashed again.
posted by Sphinx at 6:37 AM on July 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


I wonder how the people who made the "witch marks" in churches that were torn down during their lifetimes felt about it.

If you're interested, I know a guy who'd probably be able to tell you...a friend of mine is an archaeologist who specializes in medieval and early modern witch marks.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:43 AM on July 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


The poor level of education among some parish priests, and the use of shortcuts and contractions, is reflected in the sometimes appalling attempts at Latin found on the walls.

It says "Romans go home."
posted by rouftop at 6:49 AM on July 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


No it doesn't.
posted by kokaku at 6:52 AM on July 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


1349? Latin? Demons? One could surmise they were for... Nefarius Purpus. Or of Dubius Status.

Vis comica.
posted by fraula at 7:18 AM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


"People called 'Romanis' they go the house!?"
posted by Captain l'escalier at 7:39 AM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


1349? Latin? Demons? One could surmise they were for... Nefarius Purpus. Or of Dubius Status.

Biggus Dickus.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:05 AM on July 13, 2016


If you're interested, I know a guy who'd probably be able to tell you...a friend of mine is an archaeologist who specializes in medieval and early modern witch marks.

"What was the first thing that made you say 'wow, this isn't just a place for freaks after all?'"

Nothing ... Nothing at all, baby ... 's why I keep coming back ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:27 AM on July 13, 2016


Bout time to buy that cordless Dremel with a carbide bit.
posted by buzzman at 8:44 AM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


At the end of that second article, it talks about people carving ships on the walls of the church over the course of 300 years, probably as prayers for safe journeys or whatever. My question is, why is this "probably"? For 300 years, they knew exactly what they were doing. Those churches are still in use, yes? Why did people forget?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 9:22 AM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


That's interesting. I've seen (very beautiful) sailing ship graffiti from the '60s in a building that was being used by the Royal Navy. Family tradition, maybe?
posted by Leon at 9:38 AM on July 13, 2016


Those churches are still in use, yes? Why did people forget?

We don't even know the history and development of certain *liturgical* functions and prayers--things that have happened daily for hundreds of years or over a thousand years over all of Christendom--so it's not surprising that the origins and uses of some local, popular pious devotions are not well known despite those structures continually being in use.
posted by resurrexit at 9:42 AM on July 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


There are still plenty of churches in Mexico were people nail small paintings or trinkets to the walls, either asking for a miracle or giving thanks for them.

In small towns I've seen people nail stuff to the columns and the walls and even the foot of the altar. In bigger places no new stuff is allowed, but the old stuff is kept as a historical display.

Not exactly graffiti, since first you draw on a board and then nail it to the wall, but you are still leaving a mark on the wall hoping it will last forever.

Btw, the more syncretic the congregation, the more you see this.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 10:58 AM on July 13, 2016


Some more, and better, pictures at: http://hyperallergic.com/266861/witch-marks-curses-and-magic-in-the-neglected-history-of-medieval-graffiti/

Good post.
posted by bystander at 2:20 PM on July 13, 2016


People do religious and secular rituals without knowing why they're doing them all the time. They become tradition, just something we do because our people always have.

Why do you put up a pine tree at Christmas? Why do you hunt for eggs on Easter, or hide the afikoman on Passover? I would guess that most people who practice those rituals couldn't answer those questions without looking it up.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:23 PM on July 13, 2016


« Older A Girl Who Ages as Slow as Mountains   |   BREAKING NEWS Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments