Names are one of the most common types of graffiti found in the Eastern Crypt. These were personal ‘tags’ – often a way for the carver to memorialise themselves (or possibly a loved one) in that place at that time.
Where are they located in the Eastern Crypt?
A large number of names can be located on the eight pillars surrounding the original tomb of Thomas Becket. However, there are names on many of the walls and surfaces throughout the Crypt.
Can we date them?
We have found examples ranging from the medieval period right up to the present day. Examples from the 18th century onwards are more prevalent throughout the Eastern Crypt. These are easier to date as they are usually accompanied by a date inscription.
Who carved them?
Many of these names were carved by schoolboys from the neighbouring King’s School (established within the Cathedral grounds in 1541 by King Henry VIII). The school’s archivist, Peter Henderson, has already matched some of these inscriptions to former students of the school (Henderson 2019).
Thanks to the help of Dr David Rundle (Lecturer in Latin and Manuscript Studies at the University of Kent), we have found one example of a medieval name carved on the southern side of the Eastern Crypt, that of W[illiam] Boolde.
Location ref: ECS. W4. R.6? (check)
Who was William Boolde?
There is evidence of a Benedictine monk called William Boolde, who resided at Canterbury Cathedral monastery until his death c.1489–92 (Greatrex 1997; 93). He was appointed one of the keepers of the shrine (whose duty it was to care for Becket’s shrine) shortly before his death (Greatrex 2004). He would have been able to read and write to a high standard. It is thus quite possible that this monk carved his name in the Eastern Crypt, near the original tomb of the saint.
There was also a William Bolde, Mayor of Canterbury from 1457–8, who may have been a relative of Wiliam Boolde (Greatrex 2004). Was it this William who carved his name in the Crypt?
We will never know for certain which William carved this name, if indeed it was either of them. Nonetheless this piece suggests that during the fifteenth century locals were engaging with the former site of Becket’s tomb by carving their names into this space.
Greatrex, Joan. 1997. Biographical register of the English cathedral priories of the province of Canterbury, c.1066 to 1540. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Greatrex, Joan. 2004. Boolde [Bolde], William (d.1489×92). Available online at: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/2867
Henderson, Peter. 2019. G is for Graffiti. Available online at: https://medium.com/the-christ-church-heritage-a-to-z/g-is-for-graffiti-3a70959f4b27