The Porch of St Mary Kenardington

Porch bench centre memorial with possible IR initials

Alan Anstee of the Kent Medieval Graffiti Survey pays a visit to an old haunt and describes the fascinating porch of St Mary’s church in Kenardington, Kent.

St Mary, Kenardington is a small church with medieval origins near Ashford in Kent. Kenardington is a scattered hamlet consisting of clusters of houses off the B2067, with the church being some distance from the centre. 

In 1559 the church was struck by lightning leaving the 13th century tower and the later porch now the only visible remains of the medieval structure. Although damaged some of the walls of the nave and chancel survived the lightning, plaster hides any possible graffiti and none was noted here. 

I first visited the church while working for the Probation Service in 2005 and have fond memories of having lunch of duck egg and bacon rolls with a Community Service working party and their supervisor. However, I then knew nothing of medieval churches or graffiti and saw nothing.  

When in August 2015, while on my way to survey St Rumwold, Bonnington, following a request for the Kent Medieval Graffiti Survey to do this, I saw a sign to Kenardington and decided to drop in for old times sake. To my great surprise I found a relatively large amount of graffiti for, what is, such a small section of the building, the porch, mostly on the doorways and the bench. Also it was not just the quantity but to some extent the quality of some of the graffiti, with many crosses in several styles, a Marian mark, compass drawn designs, a bird (possibly a dove), scratch dials, apotropaic marks and 18th century initials and memorials. The graffiti is presented below according to type, apotropaic marks, compass drawn designs, crosses, memorials and initials, scratch dials and some miscellaneous marks.  Some of this graffiti shows signs of having been altered, especially the crosses and this has been described and explained within the limits of my knowledge.

However, it was not always clear what these graffiti were, as some are faint and a number grouped closely together were cut through by each other. These in turn were criss-crossed by even fainter lines, which may or may not have anything to do with them or other graffiti. This is a fairly common occurrence which is partly why no C5 has been enhanced as an example (no C5a), to show this more clearly.  These unrelated faint lines are shown as red dashes.


There are four examples at least of what seem to be apotropaic graffiti, a VV (or W) (no A1) on the west face of the east side of the inner doorway. This is not easy to recognise easily so an enhanced copy has been produced (no A2). There is a ladder mark (no A3), not deeply incised but quite clear, on the north face of the west side of the outer doorway and a group of lines forming a small grid or mesh (fno A4), on the south face of this doorway. On the inner doorway east side west face (no A5) there are a very faint pair of triangles, which seem to be apotropaic. However, as they are so faint that an enhanced copy (no A6) has been produced.  It is possible that one graffito (no SD2) listed under scratch dials is a VV but the faint arcs of circles around it argue for it being a scratch dial.

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Compass Drawn Designs

As at least three compass drawn designs were found, it is possible that some of the arcs of circles seen were once part of a full compass drawn design. One, on the southwest face of the east side of the inner doorway (no CD1), has what seems to be two such arcs, unfortunately these are so faint that it is impossible to say what they may have been. Initially, when starting to write this, it was thought to be a version of a graffito Lizzy Carlson posted on the English Medieval Graffiti Facebook page on 20th October 2018, which is thought to be a cosmological drawing. Although there is some similarity, mainly the smaller circle at the bottom, however when this post was checked this was the only real similarity. The larger circle shows signs that it was originally either a cross or a daisy wheel, unfortunately it is unclear which.

Two other compass drawn items were found, both crosses. One (no CD2), also on the inner doorway but this time the south face of the west side, is a cross which looks very similar to a consecration cross.  However, this cross with a diameter of around 10 cm, seems too small to be a consecration cross, the majority of those seen elsewhere had an average diameter of about 30 cm.  Also there are two smaller circles running through the main inscription.  Immediately below this is another smaller compass drawn cross. Both, although rather faint, are easily visible.

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Crosses, even when the compass drawn crosses are excluded, were the most numerous graffiti found. The quality of some of these were rather crude and seem to have been completed in a hurry, while others were very good with a lot of care and time taken in their execution. One of these latter (no C1) on the west face of the east side of the porch inner doorway, is badly weathered, with only three of the five dots and the vertical line being clearly visible. As a result, an enhanced copy of the photograph (no C2) was produced.

One intriguing thing about graffiti, especially crosses, is that many seem to have been altered/enhanced or re-inscribed, at times seemingly more than once. In this porch several crosses have been altered or enhanced over the years, this can make it difficult to identify what they are, especially if they are weathered. One photograph (no C5) shows three crosses, one a St Andrew’s cross, the two others seem to have been altered. These graffiti are on the west face of the east side of the inner doorway, the top left inscription seems to have had the lower arm of the cross extended. This does not seem to align with the dot at the bottom of the cross, perhaps evidence that it was extended at some time. The cross to the right of the former seems to have a base of faint lines, which suggests that the rest of the cross may have been deepened. As was mentioned earlier, to try to show these changes an enhanced version of this photograph (no C6) was produced showing the points mentioned above, as well as the other faint lines barely visible.

Another cross which seems to have been altered is on the southwest face of the east side of the inner doorway (no C11). This starts from a triangle, which is more deeply incised than the rest of the graffito, with a not quite vertical line terminating in a cross. The cross bar seems to be a deepened section of the mason’s tool marks. There are two other lines running either side of the main one, which seem to have nothing to do with the central line and the cross.  t seems likely then that a later hand altered what was there to form a cross.

On the east inner doorway south face there is a cross (no C16) which may have been inscribed by different hands. This is another cross where the cross bar is less deeply scored than the rest of the graffito. Also one of the crosses, which form the stand, is less deeply scored than the other.  hile the vertical post is more deeply incised than any other part of this graffito, perhaps this indicates it being incised in more than one attempt.

On the southwest face of the east inner doorway is an inscription (no C3) which seems to be a cross. This probably started as a simple vertical line, to which a triangular base and a crossbar have been added. The three components of this graffito are inscribed to different depths and possibly with different degrees of competency.

Of the remaining crosses several or parts of them, are very lightly incised and difficult to make out such as that mentioned above (no C5). These are on the Inner Doorway East Side Southwest face (no C13), the inner doorway east side northeast face (no C17) the lower of the two graffiti in the photo, the inner doorway west side south face (no C19), in this case the cross base and cross bar are very faint.

There are six well-executed crosses, each seemingly completed in a relatively short period by one person.  One on the southwest face of the east side of the inner doorway (no C4) is a well-drawn cross with curved supports at the base. On the same face as the previous cross is another similar one (no 10), which is more deeply incised and with straight supports at the base. There is another cross on this face (no 11), which differs little from the other two, apart from having two supports on each side of the base.  

A cross (no C7), on the west face of the east inner doorway is not dissimilar to the three above but has a bent vertical post. It also differs from the other three by being inscribed across two stones. Another cross on the southwest face east side of the inner doorway (no 8), here the cross is within a diamond shape on a triangular base. The cross itself is less deeply incised than the rest of the graffito.

On the inner doorway east side west face is a small cross that is badly weathered (no C9), this is a plain cross with a dot at the ends of both the horizontal and vertical sections. It is difficult to be sure due to other inscribed lines near it but on the east side southwest face of the inner doorway (no 15) there seems to be a small plain cross.  On the northwest face of the east outer doorway (no C18), there are three faint and fairly crude and perhaps hurriedly completed crosses.

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Memorials and Initials

Memorials and initials were only found on the timber bench on the east side of the porch. There are three sets of initials, one undated and possibly three-house shaped memorials. All of the latter are faint, one very faint and in the centre of the bench, two almost touch, the northerly one of this pair (No MI2) is much the fainter of these two, this has a letter W, on its side, in it. It appears to have the third, even fainter, memorial cutting through it. This also cuts through the other memorial, (No MI3) which is to the west and has initials, possible IR, in it. To give an idea of this third memorial two photos have been enhanced (no MI4 & MI5). Unfortunately these were the best pictures taken of these graffiti, which is why two photographs have been used.

North of the memorials are the undated initials JI or 1.  North of these are the dated initials WB 1763 or 65 (both no MI1).  The final initials (no MI6) are on the South end of the bench, RW 1789. Although it is impossible to be certain, it is believed that these three inscriptions are visitors leaving their mark but there is a possibility that they are memorials.

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Scratch Dials

Scratch dials, often called mass dials are relatively common, however their use has been the subject of some debate. Some were obviously intended as sundials, probably to indicate the time of services. While others have no hole for the numen or are in a location where they are out of the sun. One argument is that many – if not most of the latter – are in reality probably apotropaic marks. However, these are included in this section because the apotropaic definition is subject to conjecture.

The above is mentioned because what appears to be a definite scratch dial (no SC1) at St Mary’s is on an internal north facing wall and seems to have no provision for a numen. The purpose of this then might be apotropaic.

At St Mary’s, there are three other inscriptions that seem to be scratch dials, only one (no SD3), which is on the south facing external wall of the porch and has a hole for a numen. Of the two other possible scratch dials one (fno SD2), that in the left of the photograph, might possibly be a VV (W).  The decision to class it as a scratch dial was taken because there are arcs of circles linking the outer points of the graffito. While the other might be either but as it had been originally inscribed on two stones, the bottom section is missing, this latter might also be converging lines often regarded as apotropaic marks.

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Various Odd Graffiti

Perhaps the most interesting item found at this church is the bird (no V1) on the east inner doorway southwest face. This is believed to be a dove, this is relatively faint and was not seen when taking the photograph, only being recognised when viewing the picture on the computer; and was the first bird found by the author. This bird, if it is a dove, could be a reference to the Holy Spirit, where the Bible mentions it as a symbol for this more than once. Equally it could be an allusion to the dove which Noah released from the Ark to look for land.

On the same face of the east inner doorway as the above is a diamond shape (no V2). Usually, when these are found they surround a cross, in this case although a vertical line can just be seen there is little evidence of another line that would be needed to make it a cross. It could then be an incomplete cross.

What may be a face can be seen on the east inner doorway south face (no V3). This is a hand drawn circle, with some marks in it, which with a little imagination could be a face. However, it is difficult to be sure what it is.

On the south side of the inner doorway south face are marks (no V4) which look like an M and is probably a Marian mark. This again is a graffito which difficult to identify with any degree of certainty.

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When a relatively large amount of graffiti is found in such a small section of an almost completely destroyed medieval church, it begs the question, how much graffiti was there originally in this church?  Judging from this and comparing with some other churches it could be a lot, although it could be that the graffiti was only in the porch but this seems unlikely. Another question is why were so many crosses found? Matthew Champion (Medieval Graffiti – The Last Voices of England’s Churches.  Matthew Champion, Ebury Press, London, 2015) wrote that the early theories were that they were incised by pilgrims. This story is still told in many churches and may be true of some crosses in churches on the main pilgrim routes. However, as Champion goes on to explain the porch then had far more importance than it does now, with many religious functions, including weddings, taking place there. One last point on this the author has visited a number of churches that lie on or within a couple of hundred yards of the Pilgrims Way in Kent and can remember few with crosses round the door.

There were non-religious uses of the church porch, Church Ales may have been held there. That is the sale of home brewed ale to raise money to maintain the church, often resulting in a party with music and dancing in the churchyard. Champion wrote of these non-religious functions of church porches, including it being used as the parish office. It was here, he believes that agreements were made and oaths sworn, often as part of this a cross or crosses would be cut around the door to bear witness to this. This does seem reasonable and if each one represents an agreement made in a sacred place, then to break an agreement made, effectively, before God would be to risk your immortal soul.

However, none of this explains why some crosses are very well-designed and produced, while others are very slapdash and scrappy, Kenardington is a good example of this. Also why were some crosses seemingly produced from other graffiti. Who knows why these things happened, certainly not me.

What can be said about this particular porch is that it does contain a variety of graffiti, some of it rather nice.

Report by Alan Anstee

Church Lane
TN26 2NQ

Kent Medieval Graffiti Survey, apotropaic, memorial, compass drawn circle, VV, W, Marian mark, porch, cross, crosses, saltire cross initials, 1763, 1765, scratch dial, mass dial, marks.