Haunting Church Wall Graffiti

A church in Kingston, Cambridgeshire has revealed a haunting glimpse into the horrors of the plague during medieval times. We can only imagine what Medieval daily life was like! Norfolk and Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Survey volunteers were carrying out a survey on pre-Reformation graffiti in the church, when they discovered the names Cateryn, Jane and Amee Maddyngley and the date 1515, inscribed on stonework in Kingston parish church.

This church wall graffiti revealed that the three sisters died in a plague outbreak in 1515. At that time, there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in London which spread across south east England. Cateryn, Jane and Amee must have been children because their names are not found as adults in any of the parish or ancestral records. The Maddyngley family were known to be tenant farmers, and tenant farmers rarely appear in any parish records. The church was their local place of worship, as they lived in Kingston, which is around seven miles from Cambridge.

“The most heartbreaking inscriptions are those that refer to long-dead children,” Archaeologist Matt Champion said. Children were most vulnerable to the plague, and given the circumstances, were usually buried in unmarked graves rather quickly.

The names were hidden under limewash near the door in All Saints’ and St Andrew’s church. The volunteers used the latest digital cameras to find the ancient markings on the walls, which would be very difficult to see with the naked eye. The photo has been edited to highlight the names inscribed on the wall.

Church monuments memorialise the elite while church wall graffiti remembers the common voice

It has been found that during times of pestilence, such as the Great plague, more church wall graffiti was carved, and it is far more common that previously thought. Over half of the 650 churches surveyed in Norfolk, Suffolk and north Essex have large amounts of graffiti, of which the volunteers have recorded up to 500 items. It seems to be the only way that these poor children could mark their names down in history.

Church Graffiti

Source: The BBC and Norfolk and Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Survey

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