The best books on medieval churches

Matthew Champion Author Of Medieval Graffiti: The Lost Voices of England's Churches
By Matthew Champion

Who am I?

If you spend as long looking at medieval churches as I do, you also end up collecting a lot of books on the subject. Any church archaeologist cannot help also becoming something of a librarian. A passion for churches - and books. There are hundreds of church guidebooks out there, all of which have their own merits, but these are a small selection of books that look at different aspects of church history. They look at these amazing buildings through a different lens. These aren't a definitive guide - just books that I find myself returning to time and time again - for both information and pleasure.

I wrote...

Medieval Graffiti: The Lost Voices of England's Churches

By Matthew Champion,

Book cover of Medieval Graffiti: The Lost Voices of England's Churches

What is my book about?

For centuries carved writings and artworks in churches lay largely unnoticed. So archaeologist Matthew Champion started a nationwide survey to gather the best examples. In this book, he shines a spotlight on a forgotten world of ships, prayers for good fortune, satirical cartoons, charms, curses, windmills, word puzzles, architectural plans, and heraldic designs.

Drawing on examples from surviving medieval churches in England, the author gives a voice to the secret graffiti artists: from the lord of the manor and the parish priest to the people who built the church itself. Here are strange medieval beasts, knights battling unseen dragons, ships sailing across lime-washed oceans, and demons who stalk the walls. Latin prayers for the dead jostle with medieval curses, builders’ accounts, and slanderous comments concerning a long-dead archdeacon. Strange and complex geometric designs, created to ward off the "evil eye" and thwart the works of the devil, share church pillars with the heraldic shields of England’s medieval nobility.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Medieval Wall Paintings in English & Welsh Churches

Why did I love this book?

Today surviving medieval church wall paintings are a bit of a rarity in England, but during the Middle Ages every church, almost without exception, would have been an absolute riot of colour, with saints, angels, and demons battling their way across the walls. What Rosewell's book does is allow you to understand not just what you are seeing, but how and why they were made in the first place. It explains the way in which the pigments were made, who painted them, and even who paid for them. It also contains an absolutely fantastic selection of images, that bring to life just how vibrant the walls of our churches once were. A gem.

By Roger Rosewell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Medieval Wall Paintings in English & Welsh Churches as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Highly Commended in the Best Archaeological Book category of the 2008 British Archaeological Awards.

Wall paintings are a unique art form, complementing, and yet distinctly separate from, other religious imageryin churches. Unlike carvings, or stained glass windows, their support was the structure itself, with the artist's "canvas" the very stone and plaster of the church. They were also monumental, often larger than life-size images forpublic audiences. Notwithstanding their dissimilarity from other religious art, wall paintings were also an integral part of church interiors, enhancing devotional imagery and inspiring faith and commitment in their own right, and providing an artistic setting…

Book cover of Seeking Salvation: Commemorating the Dead in the Late-Medieval English Parish

Why did I love this book?

Definitely not as grim as the title might suggest. All churches are crammed full of memorials to the dead, and many dozens of books have been written that focus upon the people who lie in these tombs, or beneath the elegant grave slabs. However, sometimes little attention has been given to these memorials themselves, and the craftspeople who made them. This book is the culmination of a lifetime's research and will fascinate anyone who has an interest in church decoration - or dead people.

Norfolk Rood Screens

By Paul Hurst, Jeremy Haselock,

Book cover of Norfolk Rood Screens

Why did I love this book?

Surviving medieval painted rood screens are one of the wonders of England's churches. Each one artwork in its own right. In this magnificently illustrated work, the authors highlight twenty-four of the finest surviving examples, showing them in all their glorious detail. It may not be a groundbreaking work, but it is most certainly an inspiring one. If you ever thought the Middle Ages were drab and colourless, then this book will undoubtedly change your mind. A visual feast.

This book is currently out of print.

By Paul Hurst, Jeremy Haselock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Norfolk Rood Screens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of Flint Flushwork: A Medieval Masonry Art

Why did I love this book?

Stephen Hart spent a lifetime travelling around English churches and was one of the most knowledgeable - and good-natured - individuals I ever had the pleasure to work with. One of his passions was for flushwork - the decorative flint work seen on many English churches, most especially in East Anglia. This book was published towards the end of his career and brings together many of his thoughts and ideas - as well as a fantastic selection of images.

By Stephen Hart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flint Flushwork as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Flint Flushwork is a wholly external decorative medium, where the skills of medieval craftsman blended with the iconography of the medieval church to create a unique new art form. It is an artistic achievement that is built into the very fabric of many hundreds of medieval churches. As such, many examples of Flushwork survive where more impermanent artworks have succumbed to the ravages of reformation and over-zealous restoration. Despite this, however, ithas not attracted the same depth of research and analysis as other aspects of church architecture.

This book provides a wide perspective on the several different modes of Flushwork…

The Archaeology of Churches

By Warwick Rodwell,

Book cover of The Archaeology of Churches

Why did I love this book?

I love this book, and not just because it is one of the few church archaeology books to mention graffiti. This book takes a very different approach to churches than most volumes you will have come across, as it quite literally strips them back to their bare bones. This is the deep history of the parish church, laid bare in the stones. Rodwell is a recognised expert in his field, and understands churches in ways that few others do - and after reading this you will never look at a medieval church in quite the same way again. 

By Warwick Rodwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Archaeology of Churches as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Churches are Britain's most completely surviving class of historic monument. They are also usually the oldest buildings within their settlements. As such, these structures, from parish church to cathedral, from medieval to Georgian, are a huge architectural and archaeological resource.

The last couple of decades have witnessed an unprecedented upsurge of public interest in the historic environment, and the growth of the tourism and 'heritage' industries has focused new attention on churches. While some visitors to churches, cathedrals and monastic ruins seem content to wander around with little or no understanding of what they are looking at, many have an…

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