L'Eglise de Dives-sur-Mer et ses Graffiti Marins by Vincent Carpentier190 pp., 178 colour and 368 b&w copies in graffiti catalogueEditions Cahiers du Temps, 29 rue du Caporal Chassignol, 14390 Cabourg, France, 2011, €29 (hbk), ISBN 978-2355070396
Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013
© 2013 The Authors. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2013 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 42, Issue 1, pages 228–229, March 2013
How to Cite
Christensen, A. E. (2013), L'Eglise de Dives-sur-Mer et ses Graffiti Marins by Vincent Carpentier190 pp., 178 colour and 368 b&w copies in graffiti catalogueEditions Cahiers du Temps, 29 rue du Caporal Chassignol, 14390 Cabourg, France, 2011, €29 (hbk), ISBN 978-2355070396. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 42: 228–229. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12008_15
- Issue published online: 4 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013
The gothic church of Notre-Dame in the small town of Dives-sur-Mer is an impressive building. It is situated on a hill overlooking the town and estuary best known as the place where the Conqueror set sail for England. The volume under review is mainly concerned with the graffiti found on the walls of the building. They are numerous, 369 in all, the majority depicting ships.
After a short introduction, Chapter 2 describes the church and looks at the activities in the estuary. Here fishing-boats and merchant ships have anchored, giving life to a busy harbour for centuries. The chapter also describes the various fishing activities in detail. The chapter is well illustrated, using old and new photos, drawings and illustrations from early books on fishery.
Chapter 3, filling about a third of the book, discusses the graffiti, dating them by inscriptions, and comparison with old ship pictures, many of them taken from various French treatises on ships and shipping. In addition to the 268 ships, we find signatures and dates, human figures and unusual motifs such as birds, fish and high-heeled shoes seen in profile. The ships can be dated between the late medieval period and the beginning of the 20th century. The chapter is supplemented with a catalogue of 369 graffiti, all illustrated.
The author points out that many of the ships are placed on the south wall, traditionally the male side of the church. They seem to be the work of grown-up people, not children, and the author suggests that ‘they may have had an ex voto’ function, from people who could not afford to donate a painting or a ship piece of sculpture to the church, so they were carved by pious sailors. It is interesting that so many of them depict small vessels, not the big and impressive three-masted vessels of the navy and merchant marine.
This church is not alone with respect to maritime graffiti, and there seems to be an active group of people searching for graffiti and documenting them. The trend started about 1950 with the work of Henri Cahingt. The author gives a survey of similar documentation work done in other churches in Normandy. lt is stressed that it is necessary to document the graffiti, as they are vunerable to erosion, and also to repair-work, when stones are replaced.
The main value of the book is the documentation to a high standard of so many fine ship graffiti. A corpus like this will be a valuable basis for further work. Let us hope that more of the material documented in France will be published to the same high standards as this book.
An English summary would have been a valuable addition. The outlook of the volume is very French. Of the 245 works listed in the bibliography, 235 are in French, one in Provençal, one in Latin and eight in English. From the references, it seems that ship graffiti in France are mainly found in churches. This is in contrast to the Scandinavian material, which is divided between churches and secular buildings, probably indicating that they are an expression of a ‘male sphere of interest’, secular as well as religious.