Article by Carol Gibson first published on social media, 2023

The recent detailed study of the graffiti inside St Leonard’s has proved even more exciting than was anticipated.

The leading archaeologist and historian Matthew Champion, who carried out the survey, has concluded they are of national significance.

He highlights the musical notation which appears to be the only known example in an English church.

close up of graffiti on church pillar - musical notation

Matthew Champion

The seemingly unique inscription appears to be musical notation taking the form of letters. It reads, from top to bottom, ‘A,D,G,D,B’. Matthew says the letters were created by someone who was very used to the writing arts, suggesting a high level of literacy.

There are also late sixteenth century memorial inscriptions which have no direct parallels elsewhere in the UK. One example has the inscription, ‘ Within this pier where bricks are laide, there lyeth buried a virgin mayde;Frauncys Cordall was hir name, she lived and died in Godlye fame:Ano 1597,June vii’.

close up of graffiti on church pillar - memorial inscription

Matthew Champion

Matthew says that the early wall paintings also increase the significance of the site making it one of the most important and interesting medieval churches to survive in Hertfordshire.

His extensive studies lead him to conclude that some inscriptions were part of the informal worship among the local congregation in the late medieval times. They also show the different beliefs of local people through history.

At various times the parishioners thought that making these marks could protect them from evil forces. They also link directly to folk medicine as some of the cup marks are the result of grinding powder from the church stone to use in remedies.

Although these beliefs were not part of any formal Church teaching, they show that St Leonard’s was at the centre of the congregation’s physical as well as spiritual, health.

To find out more about Matthew Champion’s survey and see his fascinating photographs, he will be giving a talk in St Leonard’s on Thursday 12th October.