Medieval Graffiti - a lost art of the Middle Ages
About ten years ago I noticed how the 700 year-old church in Leighton Buzzard contains many examples of medieval graffiti. Since then I've recorded hundreds of examples of this fascinating yet overlooked folk art. You can read an investigation I did into graffiti by made by Knights Templars in France.
At All Saints, Leighton Buzzard, the most impressive example is a fading lattice consisting of many intersecting circles. It is very precise, really a masterpiece of its kind. If you click on it, it magnifies. Have a look.
This design is commonly called The Flower of Life, though it it also termed a 'hexafoil', or more dubiously 'daisy wheel' or just 'rosette'. Noone knows what it was originally called, hence the various names that exist now. It has become something of an icon for New Age and 'alternative' beliefs, sacred geometry, as well as featuring on Coldplay's latest album. You often see it in psychedelic art. These are modern 'rediscoveries' of the symbol, the roots of which go back three-and-a-half thousand years.
As well as graffiti in English churches Flower of Life / hexafoil symbols appear in lots of other places around the world. It is a very interesting symbol, as are other geometric symbols which occur in similar contexts, either as graffiti or as decoration on artworks.
As I started to investigate the Flower of Life and its kind, I realised a couple of very curious things.
This symbol (and other geometric symbols like it) tend not to feature in histories. Even specialist art histories give them only cursory mentions. Considering their ubiquity in some places, that was strange.
The other thing I realised overturned the whole direction of my work.
Upon going much further into the subject I saw that this and other symbols are like keys that unlock aspects of history that are poorly understood, and don't normally get talked about. The history of often skilled and innovative – and yet nameless – people. Similarly, a lot of other symbolic art represents one of the last great unexplored frontiers of historical enquiry. Like dark matter is to the universe, so too symbolic art is to history.
I began a book, DARK ARTS, The Secret History of Cultures by their Symbols. You can read more about this project and download the first chapter for free here.
In 2013 I curated a museum exhibition of my favourite examples of medieval graffiti at St. Albans Museum. The exhibition included this 26 minute video with a soundtrack performed by friends, old and new.
Flower of Life graffito at All Saints church, Leighton Buzzard.
Date unknown but probably late medieval, c.14th-15th century
Flower of Life or hexafoil