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Update on The Medieval Churches of Norwich Research Project

01/18/2016 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, British Isles, towns and urban environment

The Medieval Churches of Norwich research project had a productive year in 2015 and is already busy planning luckhurst-nchchurches-3events and pursuing partnerships for 2016. Visit our website to see drafts of the project’s case studies, updates on partnerships and cultural engagement funding, and news and events. The Medieval Churches of Norwich is a three-year project undertaken by researchers from the University of East Anglia. The research activity, its dissemination and communication have been made possible through the support of The Leverhulme Trust and the Norwich Research Park Translational Fund.



08/07/2015 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, genealogy and family history, households and the domestic environment, Italian Peninsula, landscapes and pilgrimage, Mediterranean, Other, Parish Research Today, Parish sources, preservation and memory, Projects, ritual, devotion and religious change, The Alpine Territories, towns and urban environment

When I visit the numerous churches and chapels in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland located south of the Alps, I am always struck by their extraordinary artistic and historical richness. One explanation is the flourishing of devotions and religious art which characterised most Catholic countries after the Council of Trent. This is certainly true especially in the Italian area, to whose cultural sphere the Ticino belonged (even though it fell under Swiss political control in the sixteenth century), but there are other reasons. In fact, a crucial further factor needs to be considered: migration. On the one hand, over the centuries, thousands of people associated with the building trades left their homes in the Lake Lugano region to practice their skills as architects, masons, master builders, stucco workers, stonecutters, sculptors and painters abroad. This phenomenon was generally seasonal and whilst staying in their villages, the artisans helped to build or embellish churches and chapels. On the other hand, many migrants associated with other professions donated substantial parts of their earnings to devotional and charitable purposes.

The migrants’ faith and generosity are still visible in many churches and chapels of these territories, particularly in the Pedemonte region, the Centovalli and in the villages surrounding the town of Locarno. Inhabitants of these places had migrated to different Italian cities – especially Livorno, Florence and Rome – for centuries. Exclusively men, they worked as porters (facchini), coachmen (vetturini), chimney sweeps and food-sellers (rosticcieri), to mention just a few professions. In Livorno and Florence they were even able to obtain the monopoly of the porterage trade.

The following pictures shall help to illustrate the impact of migration as it is still tangible today. (Click the thumbnails to enlarge the images.)

§ Figures 1, 2 and 3 – Chapel of S. Rocco (St Roch, 17th century) in the parish church of S. Maria Assunta (Assumption) in Tegna (Terre di Pedemonte, bailiwick and pieve of Locarno)

On the balustrade of many chapels, and in one case even on a confessional box, we can often find the inscription “B.D.L”, an acronym which means “Benefattori di Livorno” (“Benefactors of Livorno”). The migrants active in Livorno gathered in groups and used to collect money for their parishes and brotherhoods.

§ Figures 4, 5, 6 and 7 – Chapel in Verscio (1740) (Terre di Pedemonte, bailiwick and pieve of Locarno); and Our Lady of Montenero in Livorno (14th century)

References to migration and urban experiences also appear in specific devotions. In many churches of this region, even in small chapels deep in the forests, dozen of paintings depicting the Virgin of Montenero can still be found. Here we can see the original painting at Livorno and a very ‘rustic” copy in Verscio. The shrine of Our Lady of Grace of Montenero is located on a hill overlooking Livorno. The Madonna di Montenero, nowadays patron saint of Tuscany, was already widely venerated in seventeenth and eighteen-century century Livorno. In the chapel in Verscio, under the picture of the Virgin Mary and two further saints, we can see details of the port of Livorno (lighthouse and ships).

§ Figures 8, 9 and 10 – Parish church of S. Michele (St Michael) in Palagnedra (bailiwick and pieve of Locarno), Virgin of the Annunciation in Palagnedra (Lorenzo Cresci, altar piece, 1602) and Virgin of the Annunciation in Florence (fresco, 14th century)

A similarly imported devotion concerns the Virgin of the Annunciation of Florence. A copy of the famous and miraculous painting kept in the basilica of the Annunciation in Florence (fig. 8) can still been admired in the parish church of Palagnedra (fig. 9 and 10), a village in the Centovalli, also in the bailiwick of Locarno. This work of art was commissioned by migrants resident in Florence, as recorded in the inscription under the painting.

These are two very good examples of religious and devotional transfers. Further evidence can be found in rural brotherhoods, where migrants followed customs and devotions they had come across in major cities.


Adamoli Davide, Fratelli per l’eternità. Storia delle confraternite nei baliaggi sudalpini in epoca moderna, PhD presented at the Université de Fribourg and the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, April 2014 (forthcoming).

Beard Geoffrey, Stucco and Decorative Plasterwork in Europe, London, Thames & Hudson, 1983.

Damiani Cabrini Laura, Seicento ritrovato: presenze pittoriche “italiane” nella Lombardia svizzera fra Cinquecento e Seicento, Milano, Skira, 1996.

Gambi Lucio (ed.), “Col bastone e la bisaccia per le strade d’Europa: migrazioni stagionali di mestiere nell’arco alpino nei secoli XVI-XVIII: atti di un seminario di studi tenutosi a Bellinzona l’8 e il 9 settembre 1988”, in Bollettino storico della Svizzera italiana, vol. 103, fasc. I-IV, gennaio-dicembre 1991.

Muchembled Robert (ed.), Cultural exchange in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006-2007.

Orelli Chiara, “Migrazione e mestiere: alcuni percorsi di integrazione nelle città lombarde e toscane di “migranti” dalla Svizzera italiana (secoli XVI-XVIII)”, in Meriggi Marco, Pastore Alessandro (ed.), Le regole dei mestieri e delle professioni, secoli XV-XIX, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2001.

Rüsch Elfi, I monumenti d’arte e di storia del Canton Ticino IV, Distretto di Locarno IV (La Verzasca, il Pedemonte, le Centovalli e l’Onsernone, Berna, Società di storia dell’arte in Svizzera SSAS, 2013.

The Medieval Churches of Norwich: City, Community & Architecture

07/13/2015 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, towns and urban environment

The Medieval Churches of Norwich Project Team announces the launch of its new website. The project was undertaken by researchers from the University of East Anglia in September 2014 and is scheduled to run through August 2017. The research activity, its dissemination and communication have been made possible through the support of The Leverhulme Trust and the Norwich Research Park Translational Fund.

Our website offers more details on the project and keeps you up-to-date on our public events. We also welcome comments and suggestions on our case studies and research queries, which we will be posting very soon.

Please have a look and we look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Viking runestone at Växjö

04/02/2015 in archeology and architecture, Parish sources, ritual, devotion and religious change, Scandinavia, Uncategorized

Växjö Runestone c1000 Tyke Gunnar Pic Berig

Outside the chancel of the Domkyrkan, the medieval cathedral which also served as the town’s parish church, visitors to Växjö in Sweden encounter a runestone dating from c. 1000. One of several surviving in the area, it was discovered in the nineteenth century under plaster in the church wall.

Religious historians are used to memorial brasses and tomb inscriptions inviting prayers for the dead on the eve of the Reformation, but this concern for the salvation of souls predates the elaboration of the doctrine of purgatory by several centuries.

The inscription starts at the head of the serpent and runs clockwise along the circle, with the commendation to God in the vertical rectangle on the right. Translated into English, it reads: “Tyke, the Viking, raised the stone in memory of Gunnar, Grím’s son. May God help his soul!”. Picture: Berig 2007 under Wikimedia Commons.

Reformed churches on the move

08/17/2014 in archeology and architecture, British Isles, Other, Parish Research Today

Cape Town Slave Lodge, Slave Auction Tree Spin St and Groote Kerk

Greenock nr Glasgow Old West Kirk 1591 moved 1926 (Laird John Shaw crest + staircase)The remarkable mobility of Calvinism has long been noted by religious historians. Soon after its emergence in Geneva, the new confession attracted followers not only in numerous neighbouring territories, but also other Continents. The roots of the Groote Kerk in Cape Town (left) reach back to the establishment of a Dutch staging and supply post at the south-western tip of Africa by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. Conditions here were very different from its European home base. Immediately adjacent to the former churchyard was the slave lodge (the white building to the left of the church, where the East India Company VOC kept hundreds of unfree labourers under lock and key), while individual slaves were auctioned on a spot under the trees in the foreground.

A very different kind of mobility, however, marks the story of the Old West Kirk at Greenock near Glasgow (pic on the right). When the local inhabitants petitioned laird John Shaw for permission to have their own place of worship, one of Scotland’s first post-Reformation churches was built here in 1591. In the 1920s, however, the expansion of a nearby shipyard led to its dismantling and stone-by-stone reconstruction a short distance away on today’s Esplanade. The image shows Shaw’s personal staircase and family crest on the side wall.

Patterns, Monsters & Mysteries

08/05/2014 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, British Isles, Events, preservation and memory

This new exhibition of contemporary art takes its inspiration from the decorative art of medieval churches in Wales, presenting these patterns and images as digital prints, installation and stained glass.

The sources for these images are patterns and images on ceramic tiles at the former Cistercian abbey church at Strata Florida, patterns on the coving panels of the wooden rood screen at the church at Llananno, and stone grotesques from the exterior of the Church of All Saints, Gresford, one of the finest medieval parish churches in Wales.

An additional exhibition at the same venue is a display of photographs of stained glass form churches in Wales.

Patterns, Monsters & Mysteries:
Images from the edges of medieval art in Wales

Oriel Q
Queen’s Hall Gallery, Narberth
2 August – 6 September 2014
Wednesday – Saturday 10–5

A limited edition booklet with images of the grotesques at Gresford is also available.

Image from the exhibition Patterns, Monsters and Mysteries

Martin Crampin, Llananno Screen I

Image from the exhibition Patterns, Monsters and Mysteries

Martin Crampin, Gresford Grotesque


Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

07/16/2014 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, British Isles

June 2014 saw the publication of my new book Stained Glass from Welsh Churches. The book covers stained glass from the Middle Ages right up to the present day in twelve chapters, with plenty of illustrative material. The book is available from Y Lolfa publishers at £29.95 with free postage (or contact me for a signed copy).

Stained Glass from Welsh Churches by Martin Crampin.

Cover of Stained Glass from Welsh Churches by Martin Crampin.

I have also started a new blog with news and reviews connected with the book. Visitors and comments are welcome.

Although stained glass is such a ubiquitous art in many parish churches, I have been surprised at the comparative lack of studies of the medium, especially in the modern period. This is my attempt to help remedy the situation, for Wales at least..

Upcoming talk: Kineton Warwickshire churchyard survey

04/18/2014 in archeology and architecture, British Isles, Events, preservation and memory

In a late change to the advertised speaker, David Freke will give an illustrated talk on the results of the Kineton churchyard surveys undertaken by the Kineton and District Local History Group in 2010-12.   Entitled “Kineton Churchyard survey results” , it will be at Kineton Village Hall on Friday 25th April at 7.30, visitors are welcome (£2 at the door, includes refreshments).  The talk will cover methodology, dating masons’ styles, changing fashions in dedications, links with the Parish Burial Register, the uses of data, and “memorialising” in the wider context.

The memorials and burial register data can be found on the Kineton Group’s website

We hope interested members of the My-Parish community may be able to attend.



Berkswell Hall

08/13/2013 in archeology and architecture, British Isles, households and the domestic environment

The Manor of Berkswell dates from the late medieval period. There is no evidence of a house on this land until Samuel Marrow Bart. ‘built a substantial new house of brick between 1663 and 1674  with a five bay entrance front to the east and a longer wing stretching back with 22 rooms and 17 hearths’. On Samuel’s death his five surviving daughters held the Manor jointly until 1707, two of whom, Elizabeth and Mary, are buried in the Norman crypt at Berkswell church. Mary’s son John Knightley, Sherrif of Northamptonshire, died in 1764 and his widow Catherine was allowed to live in the House at Berkswell, which she did until her death at the age of 92 in 1812. Both John and Catherine are buried in the crypt of Berkswell Church.

The estate passed to John’s cousin Rt Hon Sir John Eardley Wilmot (1709-1792). It was his grandson, who also added an additional ‘Eardley’ to his name hence Sir John Eardley Eardley Wilmot who built the house we see today in 1814. It is suspected that the existing hall was the result of major alterations to the existing brick house of 1600s. This Sir John eventually became 6th Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) where he died in 1847 trying to clear his name over the issue of  ‘care of the moral interests involved in the system of convict discipline’. This matter was debated over a number of years in the House of Commons and at the highest level.  Sir John was buried in Hobart Tasmania, where a Gothic monument was erected in his memory by the citizens of Hobart. However a monument was erected by his family in Berkswell Cbhuurch in 1849 following the tradition of his father and grandfather.

After a brief period as a school for boys let to headmaster Rev. Charles Bickmore, Berkswell Hall was sold in 1861 to Thomas Walker, a local iron master and owner of the Patent Shaft and Axletree Co. in Wednesbury. It was Walker who enlarged the estate, formed the lake, built the lodges, coach house and stabling. Thomas Walker was obliged to secure a large mortgage against the Hall after dishonesty by a trusted cashier at his Company. Thomas Walker and his wife are buried in Berkswell churchyard near the old private entrance to the Hall.

The 1888 sale catalogue for the Berkswell Estate states that the Hall was a substantial brick building, cemented and painted light stone colour with a HaHa dividing the park from the gardens comprising Italian garden and spacious tennis and other lawns. The elegant double drawing room had richly papered walls and decorated ceiling. Entrance hall with marble mantelpiece, conservatory heated by water full of camelias, ferns and wisteria. Gilt, mahogany and stone staircase lead to 19 principal bedrooms each with marble mantelpieces.. The entire mansion was lit by gas, supplied with water from springs in the village and forced to the top of the house by a hydraulic ram.

Berkswell Estate was purchased in 1888 by Joshua Hirst Wheatley whom locals fondly referred to as ‘the old Squire. The Reading Room in the village, opened by his wife Edith, was built at his expense as was repairs to the Church Bells.  Upon Joshua’s death his son Charles Joshua Hirst Wheatley and his wife Christobel moved into Berkswell Hall in 1925. Charles died suddenly in 1943 and is interred in the family grave with a memorial window in Berkswell Church. Christobel took a great interest in village affairs and hosted the annual Church Fete at Berkswell Hall. Chistobel died in 1987 aged 89 but had remained at the Hall, running the estate, until ill health forced her to sell the Hall in 1984 when it was converted to luxury apartments. Today the Hall is a Grade II* listed building.

Brenda Murray

August 2012

Parish Pests: ‘vermin’ and other animals in early modern parishes

07/05/2013 in agriculture and the economy, archeology and architecture, British Isles, officeholding and local government, Uncategorized

In today’s Guardian, Simon Hoggart outlines the great trouble caused by bats in modern parish churches. Due to the recent classification of bats as a protected species, churchwardens are no longer able to disturb their homes and habitats. It can cost up to £29,000 in legal fees for churches to be allowed to relocate bats, and a project has been set up to help our two species communities cohabit peaceably in churches.

Ridding parish churches of ‘vermin’ has a long history. The term ‘vermin’ has had various contested meanings, many of which were based on the slyness and subtlety of vermin. The main threat that these unwanted creatures posed was to seeds and crops. In 1533, parliament passed ‘An Acte made and ordeyned to dystroe Choughes, Crowes and Ro[o]ks’, which ordered every parish to provide a net for catching birds, on pain of a fine. The act specified that two pence was to be paid by farmers and landowners ‘for every xij [twelve] olde Crowes Rookes or Choughes’ caught on their land. A further act of 1566 (‘An Acte for preservacion of Grayne’) expanded the list of vermin to a further thirty-two types of bird and mammal, including kingfishers, bustards, stoats and wild cats, each with a price on their head. In Silent Fields: The long decline of a nation’s wildlifeRoger Lovegrove argues that this act sanctioned the systematic and widespread persecution of wildlife, that continued right up until the nineteenth century.

Early modern parishes had a mixed relationship with their animal neighbours. Records abound of churchwardens paying out for animals caught or moved on under the 1533 and 1566 acts. In 1555 at Mildenhall, Suffolk, ‘John Pollyngton and Buntyng’ were paid for ‘taking of the dows [doves] and the oules [owls] in the church’.[1] Church roofers could supplement their income by removing unwanted birds from church lofts. Whilst repairing the roof of Walton-on-the-Hill, Lancashire, in 1663-4 a group of ‘slaters’ removed four owls at a cost of 1s 2d, and later the intransigent ‘old owle’ for a substantial 1s.[2] In a typical churchwardens’ account entry in the Bedfordshire parish of Northill in 1572, John More was paid twelve pence for bringing in a fox head.[3] In Shillington, Bedfordshire, during the ‘general crisis’ of the dearth years of 1594-7, the parish invested in crow nets to be used by parishioners, perhaps to protect a slender crop. In 1594 wardens laid out 7s 10d on a net, which was subsequently repaired for 10d in 1597.[4] During the Interregnum, the parish of Walton-on-the-Hill, Lancashire paid out for many fox heads, including the 2s for four fox ‘whelps’ (cubs) in 1657.[5] In Cratfield, Suffolk, in 1651-2 the pursuit of vermin became weaponised as the churchwardens paid out 4s 10d ‘for lokeing to the wheat, and powder and shott to kill varmen’.[6]

‘Vermin’ and other animals did not always enter parishes and churches entirely of their own volition. In his 1509 Shippe of Fooles, Alexander Barclay laments the veritable menagerie attendant at some pre-Reformation church services:

Into the church there comes another sotte,
Without devotion jetting up and downe,
Or to be seene, and to shew his garded cote;
Another on his fiste a sparhawke or fawcone
Or else a cokow, so wasting his shoon.
Before the aultar he to and fro doth wander,
With even so great devotion as a gander.

One time the hawkes bells jangleth hye,
Another time they flatter with their wings,
And now the houndes barking strikes the skye,
Nowe sounde their feete, and now the chaynes ringes,
They clap with their handes ; by such manner of things
They make of the church for their hawkes a mewe.
And canell for their dogges, which they shall after rewe.[7]

Dogs were a particular problem for some parishes. They were to be whipped out of the choir in sixteenth-century Chichester, and payments for dog whipping are not uncommon in churchwardens’ accounts.[8] Dogs’ admittance to church became a minor polemical controversy in the seventeenth century. Archbishop Laud’s introduction of the rail around the communion table was loathed by stricter Protestants and seen as ‘popish’ due to the formal separation of clergy and congregation. The rector of Beckington, Somerset, claimed rails would ‘give admittance unto dogs, while Christians be kept out’.[9] Laud himself saw the rail functioning differently. After a dog stole a consecrated loaf from the altar at Tatlow, Cambridgeshire one Christmas Day, Laud argued that such a scandal would have actually been prevented by the presence of a rail.[10]

Some domestic animals behaved much better than these anecdotes would have us believe. Whilst I have no evidence to suggest that anyone went as far as blessing a dog, special dog pews were erected in Aveley, in Essex, and at Northorpe, in Lincolnshire, where the small ‘Hall Dog Pew’ accommodated canine companions during divine service.[11] Perhaps there is yet hope for bats and humans to cohabit in peace and piety.

[1] Judith Middleton-Stewart (ed.), Records of the Churchwardens of Mildenhall Collections (1446-1454) and Accounts (1503-1553) (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2011), p. 135.

[2] Esther M.E. Ramsay and Alison J. Maddock (eds), The Churchwardens’ Accounts of Walton-on-the-Hill, Lancashire 1627-1667 (The Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 2005), pp. 148-9.

[3] J.E. Farmiloe and Rosita Nixseaman (eds), Elizabethan Churchwardens’ Accounts (Streatley: The Bedfordshire historical Record Society, 1952), p. 14.

[4] Ibid. p. 91, p. 99.

[5] Ramsay and Maddock (eds), The Churchwardens’ Accounts of Walton-on-the-Hill, Lancashire 1627-1667, p. 116, passim.

[6] L.A. Botelho (ed.), Churchwardens’ Accounts of Cratfield 1640-1660 (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1999), p. 87.

[7] quoted in George S. Tyack, Lore and legend of the English Church (London: W. Andrews & Co., 1899), pp. 109-10.

[8] W.D. Peckham (ed.), The acts of the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral Church of Chichester, 1545-1642 (Lewes : Sussex Record Society, 1959); i.e. C.J. Litzenberger (ed), Tewkesbury Churchwardens’ Accounts, 1563-1624 (Stroud: TBGAS, 1994), p. 46, p. 63.

[9] Charles Carlton, Archbishop William Laud (London: Routledge, 1987), p. 97.

[10] Carlton, Archbishop William Laud, p. 97.

[11] Tyack, Lore and legend of the English Church, p. 109; T.F. Thiselton-Dyer, Church-lore gleanings (London: A.D. Innes and Co, 1892), pp. 191-92.