A recent survey in London has revealed a number of marks and symbols carved into the masonry of the capital’s churches and buildings. Many of these marks have been interpreted as apotropaics; ritual protection marks intended to avert the evil-eye, bring good luck, trap evil spirits and to act, in some cases, as counter-witchcraft measures.
The study of medieval graffiti has been in the ascendant recently, with popular books published on the subject. These mainstream publications have helped to disseminate the new interpretative frameworks and ideas that are the culmination of the last thirty years of academic research into medieval inscriptions. The re-evaluation of medieval graffiti has revealed many more subtleties and meanings than hitherto imagined. There are many categories now recognised, including masons’ marks, devotional and memorial inscriptions and a whole range of apotropaic symbols now believed to represent an element of ritual building protection.
It is now generally agreed that many medieval buildings which contain examples of apotropaic graffiti are also likely to contain concealed objects within the buildings’ fabric. There is a growing database that records the discovery of concealed shoes (and clothing), witch bottles, written charms and mummified cats that have been found within building contexts and which have been recorded archaeologically.
This study takes the data collected from a random sample of medieval buildings in London. The only criteria having been that the buildings had to contain surviving fabric from the medieval period or retained structural elements that dated to before 1850. The aim of the study was to determine if any of the graffiti found therein can be said to be apotropaic in nature and what evidence existed to support the hypothesis.
This talk was given in 2019. It is now online: