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Witch marks: Medieval graffiti for protection

"Witch marks and protection marks are a testament to the power of superstition and the enduring legacy of the fear of witches." - Brian Hoggard

Church Witch Marks, also known as Apotropaic or Witches' marks, were symbols or carvings found on the walls, ceilings, and floors of churches and other buildings during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period. These marks were believed to ward off evil spirits, witches, and other supernatural beings.

Examples of witch marks from across the UK

Church Witch Marks typically took the form of small scratch marks, circles, triangles, crosses, or letters, and were often placed in hidden or hard-to-reach locations, such as under roof beams or behind plasterwork. They were often made with a sharp instrument, such as a knife or nail, and sometimes included more elaborate designs, such as interlocking circles or pentagrams.

The belief in Church Witch Marks was part of a wider system of folk magic and superstition that prevailed during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period.

Many people believed that witches and other malevolent spirits were responsible for causing misfortune and disease, and that certain symbols and rituals could protect them from harm.

Although the practice of making Church Witch Marks declined in the 18th and 19th centuries, many of these marks can still be found in old churches and buildings throughout Europe, particularly in England. Today, they are studied by historians and archaeologists as a fascinating glimpse into the beliefs and practices of our ancestors.

(Above) More examples of medieval graffiti, with the marks highlighted in black to make it easier to see.

Photograph: © Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey

The study of medieval graffiti has become an increasingly important field of research in recent years, providing valuable insights into the lives and beliefs of ordinary people during this period. Some of the most common themes found in medieval graffiti include expressions of faith and devotion, as well as personal and romantic messages.

In addition to providing insights into medieval culture and society, medieval graffiti can also have aesthetic and artistic value. Many of these inscriptions and drawings are remarkably detailed and skilfully executed, and have been recognized as important examples of early medieval art.

Overall, the study of medieval graffiti provides a fascinating window into the lives and thoughts of people from the past, and underscores the importance of preserving these valuable cultural artefacts for future generations.

"Witch marks and protection marks offer a fascinating glimpse into the minds and beliefs of our ancestors, and their attempts to protect themselves from the perceived threat of witchcraft." - Owen Davies

For further information on Witch marks please see the links below

Marks of the Witch: Britain's ritual protection symbols - Article from Fortean Times magazine FT392 by Dr David Clarke, Sheffield Hallam University Research Archive

This Church Has an Eerie Visual Record of the Black Death.

From the Series: Mystic Britain: Witches and Demons - Smithsonian Channel

Our friends over at the Churches Conservation Trust have a range of fascinating lectures on their YouTube channel, including some about Churches and Protection marks.

Protection marks Lecture with Brian Hoggard

Protection marks in churches and other buildings with Brian Hoggard

Historical Graffiti in Winchester Cathedral with Dr Cindy Wood

Warding off evil with witch marks article by The National Trust Click Here

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