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Musical Graffiti

Musical notation is amongst the very rarest of all types of early church graffiti, with only a few dozen high quality examples being recorded across the entire country. In most cases the inscriptions are to be found in our larger religious buildings, such as Norwich cathedral and York Minster, and most examples identified to date appear to be examples of chant or plainsong. They are also often shown on a four line stave, with the modern five line stave not entering general usage until the late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries.

The reason for this bias towards the abbeys, priories and cathedrals may be a relatively simple one. During the Middle Ages is was only at these larger monastic sites that musical notation was regularly used and taught - and it is no coincidence that many of our finest choir schools are still attached to sites such as Westminster Abbey and Winchester Cathedral.

This doesn’t of course mean that music wasn’t an important aspect of the medieval church in even the most rural of parishes, for it most certainly was. However, in the villages of medieval England the formal teaching of music and musical notation appears to have been exceptionally rare, with most church music being passed verbally from person to person. The chants of the church services were to be sung and listened to rather than scratched into the stones…