Illustrated Talks Autumn/Winter 2022

 3rd October 2022

‘Ritual Acts of Building Protection: Concealed Objects & Wards Against Evil.’

One of two intentionally-concealed ‘mummified’ cats found within the chimney breast of the Stag Inn, Hastings © W Perkins 2019.

Mummified cats discovered in wall voids; old boots & shoes found in the chimney breast; ‘spiritual middens’ of worn clothes & broken objects concealed beneath the floorboards; written charms inserted into timber door frames & witch bottles buried beneath the threshold…all were once considered to be disparate phenomena – but which are now recognized as the archaeological traces of past folk practices – and the material residue of ‘ritual acts of building protection.’

To this list of intentionally-concealed objects can now be added the phenomena of ritually-applied taper burn marks applied to house timbers and apotropaic graffiti, often found in and on the structural elements of late medieval buildings. Churches, secular buildings, hospitals, manor houses, castles and farmsteads of the period all bear the material expressions of our ancestors’ cultural anxieties.

The Early Modern Period was a time wracked with plague, internecine warfare, crop failures and the Little Ice Age – which the population accounted for as punishments by God and the result of their sin. To compound the pragmatic hardships of the day, many still believed in the existence of ghosts, revenants (the restless dead) and the possibility of demonic possession – not to mention the ever-present fear of bewitchment and the infiltration of their houses by witches and their familiars.

A Zoom Presentation.

Hosted by the Viktor Wynd Museum.

Details/Registration:

https://www.thelasttuesdaysociety.org/event/ritual-acts-of-building-protection-concealed-objects-wards-against-evil/

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20th October

‘Beyond the Havering Hoard: Ritual Deposition in the European Bronze Age.’

A metal object ‘concealed’ within one of the socketed axes from the hoard © W Perkins 2020.

An interesting example of a ritual act undertaken almost three millennia ago was illustrated in the exhibition of the Havering Bronze Age Hoard, which ran at the Museum of London Docklands during 2020.

The hoard or a ‘cache’ in this instance was an intentional deposit of fragmentary tools and weaponry collected together and then buried between 900 to 800 years BC – at the end of the Bronze Age and on the cusp of the Iron Age. The hoard – or hoards (as there were four separate ones in the same location) – were discovered during the excavation of a Bronze Age ditched enclosure in Essex.

The exhibition posited a number of interpretations for the phenomenon known as ‘hoarding’ (i.e. intentionally burying) objects. However, in this instance, it was clearly a ritual act. The four hoards (possibly contained in sacks) were buried within the boundary ditch of the enclosure on its west side. Nothing unusual in that – but when one looks closer, a number of small details emerged. The location chosen was directly opposite the entranceway situated to the east, so its placement was both on the main axis of the enclosure but also upon its solar axis. Furthermore, the alignment, if drawn through the enclosure, encapsulated two timber-built ‘four-post’ structures. Often interpreted as grain stores, these structures represented the food ‘wealth’ of the settlement.

The placement of the hoards within the ditch was significant because they had chosen a ‘liminal’ place – the ditch is located neither ‘inside’ nor ‘outside’ the enclosure. Many of the objects had been deliberately broken (ritually killed) before deposition. When the excavators tried to piece together fragments from the same object -such as a fragmented sword – they found that some of the sections were missing. Further, each hoard seemed to contain an assemblage of ‘selected’ items so that each contained a similar ‘array’ of objects. This phenomenon is known as ‘fragmentation’ – a term first coined by archaeologist John Chapman. Whilst excavating prehistoric sites in Croatia he found that objects (particularly, in this case, smashed pottery) was broken its sherds had been ‘distributed’ within a variety of different features. For example, he found one fragment of the same pot had been deposited into each separate posthole of a building).

Finally, when some of the objects were x-rayed they could see that some of smaller fragments had been deliberately ‘hidden’ or jammed into the voids of the larger objects.

This was a clear case of ritual activity, probably meant to reflect the process of death, ritual rebirth and ensure continuing fertility for the community.

In this lecture I will be looking at hoards but also recent discoveries of mysterious ‘hybrid’ human burials where body parts are missing or have been replaced!

May contain mortuary archaeology.

In Person & Via Zoom

Hosted by: Bexley Archaeological Group (BAG).

Details/Registration:

‘Beyond the Havering Hoard: Ritual Deposition in the Bronze Age’ – Wayne Perkins – Pre- Construct Archaeology

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1st  November 2022

‘John Schorn: the Rector Who Conjured the Devil Into A Boot.’

Profligate graffiti around the east window of the south chapel, St Mary’s North Marston, Buckinghamshire © W Perkins 2019.

‘Master,’ ‘Maister’ or ‘Sir’ John Schorn, Rector of North Marston, Buckinghamshire died 1314, reputed to have miraculous powers of healing sickness. He is said to have struck the ground with his staff from which a spring gushed forth. the water were said to be excellent for curing the ‘ague’ (malaria) and gout!

Medieval drawings and wall paintings show him carrying a boot containing a small devil which he made appear/disappear as symbol of his power, supposedly the origin of Jack-in-the-Box.

Following his death, the little church of North Marston became a place of pilgrimage. A number of wayside Inns held the name ‘The Boot’ as pilgrims made their way to and from North Marston on their way to Canterbury.

When St George’s Chapel was being built, Bishop Beauchamp obtained a Bull from Pope Sixtus IV authorising the removal of John Schorn’s bones to Windsor in 1481 when a shrine was built in the first chantry to be completed. Thousands of pilgrims visited the shrine. The Parish of North Marston is still under the patronage of St George’s Chapel today.

In 1585 Edward Clinton, 1st Earl of Lincoln died aged 73. He was Lord High Admiral, Governor of Boulogne, Governor of the Tower of London and a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. A decision was taken to demolish the Schorn shrine and construct a tomb for the earl and his wife in its place. John Schorn’s bones presumably remain beneath the Lincoln tomb.

Zoom talk.

Hosted by: Olney Archaeological Society. 

Details/Registration:

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10th November

‘ Historic Graffiti & Inscriptions in the Worcestershire Churches.’

A hand outline (and initials) in the porch of St Nicholas, Pinvin, Worcestershire (c) W Perkins 2022.

A recent survey in Worcestershire has revealed and number marks and symbols carved into the masonry of the county’s medieval churches and buildings. Many of these marks have now been interpreted as apotropaics; ritual protection marks intended to avert the evil-eye, bring good lucktrap evil spirits and to act, in some cases, as counter-Witchcraft measures.

The study of medieval graffiti has been in the ascendant over the last few years with popular books recently published on the subject. There are many categories now recognised, including masons’ marksdevotional and memorial inscriptions and a whole range of apotropaic symbols now believed to represent elements of ritual building protection.

The recent 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 diverse meanings than hitherto imagined.

Graffiti can span the entire medieval period but appears to peak between AD 1650 –1850 at the time of the so-called ‘witch craze’ in Europe. Are the marks then the material trace of the cultural anxieties of the day?

In person & via Zoom.

Hosted by: The South Worcestershire Archaeological Group (SWAG).

Details/Registration:

http://www.swagsweb.co.uk/Contact-us/

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30th November

‘Apotropaic Graffiti in the London Churches.’

St Bartholomew’s Church, Spitalfields, London


A preliminary survey of the medieval buildings of London was undertaken by the author in 2019. Based upon the findings, a series of statements can be made;

•       Many of the symbols recorded fell within a narrow repertoire that was repeated at most of the buildings

•       Most of the marks were conclusively not masons’ marks as some had been made on a variety of materials

•       Their location; often focusing around thresholds was significant

•       Marks focusing on the memorials of historic effigies suggest a pre-occupation with religious intermediaries

•       Evidence for the removal of stone from the buildings for potions was recorded

•       The marks exist without text or explanation, suggesting that their meaning must have been innate

•       Although precise dating for the marks was not possible, identical marks had been made on a variety of materials  from the 12th to the 17th centuries

•       Some of the symbols bore a strong resemblance to powerful ancient antecedents

In this talk, the author presents a wide range of photographs of graffiti from the survey, along with some of the current interpretational frameworks that are being used to ‘crack the code’ of their meaning & significance.

In person & via Zoom.

Hosted by: Fortean London.

Details/Registration:

http://forteanlondon.blogspot.com/

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Talks 2023

Friday 17th March 2023 at 7.30pm

‘Historic Graffiti & Ritual Protection Marks in the Church of the Holy Cross, Waltham Abbey’

View east down the main axis of Waltham Abbey towards the altar (c) W Perkins 2022

An Illustrated talk by Wayne Perkins (BA Archaeology, ACIfA).

Concentrations of graffiti on some of the north east piers are palimpsests or aggregations formed over long time periods and incorporating a bewildering variety of symbols (c) W Perkins 2022.


In Person & via Zoom

Baptist Church, Paradise Road, Waltham Abbey, EN9 1RL.


Hosted by: Waltham Abbey Historical Society

Details & registration:

http://www.walthamabbeyhistoricalsociety.org.uk

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Friday 21st April 2023

‘ Incendiary Behaviour: Evidence for Ritual Protection Marks at Lullingstone Castle’

The gatehouse to Lullingstone Castle contained a high level of ritual activity (c) W Perkins 2022.

Ritually-applied taper burn marks on one of the bressumiers (timber fireplace lintels) in the Gatehouse (c) W Perkins 2022

An Illustrated Talk ‘in person’ by Wayne Perkins (BA Archaeology, ACIfA)

In person

Eynsford Village Hall @ 7.30pm.

Hosted by: Farningham & Eynsford Local History Society

Details & Registration:

archives@felhs.org.uk 

http://felhs.org.uk/diary.asp

Further information regarding each of the above events will follow shortly or please contact wmp1@yahoo.com

3 Comments

    1. Hi Annaliese thank you for your interest! If you click on the link to the Plaxtol Local History Group (at the bottom of article) they will be glad to help. In this instance the group have decided to set a fee that in turn gives you a years membership to their group for a year-a very fair way for them to increase their membership and help finance the talks. For that you get access to their archive, news on projects and, I believe, access to all their Zoom talks for a year (but please verify this with them). Different groups have a different approach to the way they fund their talks. Looking forward to seeing you online!

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