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  • Adrian J. Boas

On Chewing Gum and Crosses


Along with names, heraldic carvings and other graffiti markings incised on the walls of medieval buildings, there are also many anonymous marks cut in stone. They are not functional, such as builders' marks, which have a clear purpose (to enable the placing of building stones in particular positions during construction), or mason's marks (intended to enable the paymaster to tally a mason's work in order to pay him). Nor are they like the incised names and heraldry, which are left so that future visitors will know that a so-and-so had been here. These anonymous marks have a different and more personal purpose. The hundreds of crosses carved by or for pilgrims on the walls of the staircase leading down to the Chapel of Saint Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for example, had no functional purpose as such. If you cut a cross on the wall, no one other than yourself (and those who observed you doing so) would know. You were not leaving a mark that would identify you. This was a purely personal, devotional act, a commemoration perhaps of the completion of a spiritual journey, with no use or expectations.


A somewhat strange modern equivalent can be seen on walls of what is claimed to be the house of Juliet in Verona. The street walls and the interior courtyard walls are encased with endless ballpoint and felt pen inscriptions. There are also thousands of red, heart-shaped locks bearing the names of lovers; an expression of the hopes for a lasting love, something that statistics suggest is not overly realistic. Along with these, there are thousands of pieces of chewing gum stuck to the walls. This is a strange ritual also found in other locations around the globe. Preferable perhaps to disposing of gum under a seat or table, or on the pavement, it appears to be, like the crosses in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the act by devotees of a sort of deity – Juliet[?] Shakespeare[?] who desire to leave their own, entirely anonymous, rather extraordinary, and very personal mark.

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