The names of Cateryn, Jane and Amee Maddyngley were found hidden under limewash near the door of Kingston parish church in Cambridgeshire.
They were etched into the stonework along with the year 1515, which coincides with a recorded outbreak of bubonic plague in London which spread across south east England.
The Maddyngleys were tenant farmers whose family had lived in Kingston since at least 1279. Although the sisters’ cause of death is not recorded, it is assumed that they were plague victims who died in childhood because they no longer appear in parish records as adults after 1515.
The graffiti was discovered in All Saints’ and St Andrew’s church by volunteers from the Norfolk and Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Survey, who used powerful lamps and digital cameras to find traces of hidden markings. They have found that at least 60% of the 650 churches they have surveyed in Norfolk, Suffolk and north Essex have such inscriptions, much of it created during outbreaks of plague. They include the plaintive plea ‘God save us’ believed to date to the Black Death in 1349 found scrawled in another Cambridgeshire church, as well as prayers for the sick.
Archaeologist Matt Champion said: “The most heartbreaking inscriptions are those that refer to long-dead children. It was a votive offering at a time when prayer counted. This one is particularly emotive because it’s the names of three girls who all died in the same year. These people often couldn’t afford to have themselves memorialised and in some cases this graffiti could have been the last mark of their life.”
Source: BBC; Image: Norfolk and Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Survey