Vernacular religions and secular customs

Nationally, the material evidence for folk beliefs and rituals running parallel with those of the established church are being identified within excavation (Gilchrist 2008) and standing buildings, particularly churches (Champion 2015). There is increasing recognition and recording of evidence for folk religion in late medieval archaeological contexts but as yet, studies are few in the region. An aspect of folk belief practice being explored on a national level is the possible ritual deposition of ampullae (see table 3), where deliberately broken pilgrim ampullae in rural contexts may be evidence of ritual practice to do with blessing fields (Anderson 2010). It is acknowledged that distribution may be a reflection of retrieval strategies and reporting, rather than deposition. In the NW, Cumbria has little ploughed land and therefore fewer optimum areas available for metal detecting and field walking this may reflect in distribution patterns.

A recently initiated regional project that is beginning to investigate aspects of this theme is The Greater Manchester Graffiti Survey the pilot project for the North-West Historic Graffiti Survey. This volunteer-led survey takes its inspiration from the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey and aims to survey marks found in buildings with significant elements constructed before 1700. The project is already recording many elements found in both religious and secular contexts indicating a crossover of practice in the use of protective marks (Fig. 33).

In light of current interest in the material culture of folk belief, archaeologists are starting to recognise evidence for possible ritual activity in excavations. At St Mary’s Church, Penwortham (L), excavation revealed human remains that may be indicative of ritual not normally associated with Christian inhumation. These included three skeletons that appeared to have been deliberately buried under walls and column bases. A possible infilled well contained human remains and three skulls were found within one of the medieval walls, these lacked the mandibles suggesting that they were deliberately re-deposited. They were interpreted as ritual deposition associated with “vernacular religious practices or aspects of popular belief” (Vannan 2011, 3).

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