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Ragged Staff

The Ragged Staff motif is one that is well known to anybody with an interest in medieval heraldry. The ‘Bear and Ragged Staff’ was used as a ‘livery’ symbol by the Earl’s of Warwick throughout much of the later Middle Ages, and the Earl’s servants and retainers are commonly depicted as just wearing the symbol of the Ragged Staff as a badge. As a symbol it also turns up fairly regularly amongst church graffiti.

As long ago as 1967 Violet Pritchard suggested that the presence of the Ragged Staff amongst church graffiti was more than simply associated with heraldry. The number of times it was recorded, often in association with religious imagery, and the fact that it was the only ‘livery’ symbol to appear amongst the graffiti, led to the suggestion that it might indeed be religious in nature. This idea was supported by the discovery of a number of medieval lead ‘pilgrim’ badges depicting the Ragged Staff, but also displaying religious mottoes and inscribed crosses - something also seen on the graffiti examples.

The general consensus today is that the symbol most certainly has a religious function - but that we aren’t entirely certain just what that function might be. There were certainly a number of saints with whom a staff was associated, with St Christopher perhaps being the most likely candidate. Indeed, inscribed into the plaster of the medieval wall painting of St Christopher at Swannington in Norfolk is a neat Ragged Staff motif.