Welcome to Churches & their Naughty Bits, the Substack for all things church-related, architectural history, history (a bit—okay, a lot—medieval), and everything in-between (including the truth behind it all…you’ll have to subscribe to find out what that means), published by me, Emma J. Wells (Dr, technically).
First up on the housekeeping agenda: By no means is this simply a spot for theological or religious discourse (or diatribe!). I prefer to get to the nitty-gritty history and show you the beauty and heart of the world of churches, their buildings, and above all, the fascinating (and at times, titillating) cast of characters that have shaped them throughout the past.
Why did I create it?
As an ecclesiastical (church) and architectural historian with a penchant for (and specialism in) the Middle Ages and sixteenth-century, churches have been an essential part of my life since I was a youngster. I truly believe they are the epitome of our history. Within them, we can see past, present, and future, as well as politics, economics, faith, folklore, and even sexuality (yep!). They are the playgrounds of the past. Yet, as a university lecturer (well, until September 2022 as they withdrew my programmes—I know, don’t get me started!), my views are often watered down or have to be restricted entirely (but not here!). As a broadcaster and an author, I feel I have far more creativity to open you up to the fascinating tales (good and bad; evil and inspiring) behind one of the world’s most influential and powerful institutions. I, therefore, feel that this platform affords me this freedom. Let’s bounce ideas off one another; let’s debate and discuss. You'll see that my interests vary widely—from minute microarchitecture to monks behaving badly. And, on that note, for those who don't know me and my work, see here for an article on the naughty aspects of church architecture; here for how to become a saint; here for the wonderful world of relic hunting; here for heritage and mission in today’s churches; and here for how our walls can talk to us. Are those topics diverse enough? Oh, and feel free to stop by and purchase my books here; plus, I even have a store that sells history focussed clothes and accessories (and supports historians and archaeologists in the process!), so feel free to take a peek at What is History? Store! ;) Or, have a browse at all the things I get up to on the daily over at my website: emmajwells.com
But the primary reason that I decided to create this community was that, although I've been writing about this topic for years (decades!) now, I haven’t really been able to interact and engage with those who also love the subject. I hope that soon changes.
I want this to be a platform where like-minded people question church history but also are open to evolving the subject far beyond the four walls of the Christian faith.
‘When I set out to look and learn more about cathedrals and churches, I struggled a little with making sense of these complex buildings that need to be ‘read’ if they are to be understood. I am a very visual learner and wish very much that I had a sympathetic guide to show me the way. Emma has been my constant fall back and I am beyond delighted to see that she is now offering her expertise to a wider audience. She has managed and taught the hugely successful Parish Churches PGDip course at the University of York and now brings that knowledge to the Internet. If you are interested in the history and development of the church delivered in a passionate, authoritative and overall accessible manner then I strongly recommend you sign up to her website.’
‘What a wonderfully detailed and well-researched piece… Really enjoyed reading it – it’s so thorough! –and I really can’t be happier being part of our excellent church-crawlers!’
‘Thank you so, so much for this absolutely amazing and detailed explanation of such delightful but somewhat mystical Sheela-na-gigs, Emma! Really wonderful stuff!’
‘A great first podcast that has whet my appetite for what comes next’.
What will I receive?
Churches & their Naughty Bits is released at least once a week.
I appreciate that times are difficult for us all, and that is why, in all honesty, I decided to create this platform. Therefore, there is a small fee for the majority of the content. Paid subscribers are treated very well. The monthly tier gets access to all sorts of articles. And these will be articles that are far more poignant and also more risqué than anything I publish elsewhere—but expect everything from ramblings, unpublished works, fun facts, hidden histories, and behind-the-scenes bits. It will also act as a newsletter providing updates on books/projects, appearances, etc—so an easier way to tell you what I’m up to. I shall be using my voice to the best of my ability. There will also be exclusive access to Q & As, interviews, listicles, reviews, tips on getting published, and podcast-style audio posts (and videos, perhaps)—as well as special guests popping by. And if we keep growing, perhaps online courses and get-togethers might be of interest…? You will of course be able to comment on all of my posts, to which I will respond. So, subscribe to get full access to the newsletter and website. Every new edition goes directly to your inbox.
The monthly fee is £5, or you can choose to pay £50 for the full year. The first 15 people who signed up for the latter received a signed copy of my forthcoming book, Heaven on Earth (as they’ve now all gone annual subscribers will get a signed bookplate and personalised thank you video OR a signed copy of my first book—Pilgrim Routes of the British Isles—for those who don’t already have it). Founding members (as the platform calls them), or the VIPs, will receive full access and a free signed copy of my new book, and signed copies of my future books (don't worry, the next one is on its way very soon—and those who subscribe will find out all about it first!)—plus your name in the Acknowledgments…and my eternal gratitude (seriously!). I will also drop VIPs a video to say thank you for your generosity. And I will swing one of my photographs (of a church, or its art/architecture, or even my own artwork, signed—which you can find listed on my website HERE) for any subscriber (whichever paid tier) who wants one. Just drop me an email or message.
Join the crew
Be part of a community of people who share your interests.
I'm very excited about creating this platform, not only because it allows me to interact with all of you, but because it allows me the freedom to discuss the issues I wish to and challenge where and when I need to. And that is all because of your generosity. For that reason, you can expect a few competitions and giveaways (books, What is History? merch, vouchers, etc) thrown in for good measure. Above all, I would like to create a community where we can share and debate. It is for everyone who loves everything churches and is open to all aspects—regardless of faith or belief.
As we grow, I am at your mercy and rely on your wisdom to inform me of any suggestions you may have, however outlandish you may think them. And by all means, do not hold back in the comments.
If you’re unsure about subscribing but still want to send a little bit of support my way, click my Kofi link below which allows you to make a small, one-time donation of however much you prefer.
Share the joy
Sharing my Substack is perhaps the most impactful thing you can do to support me. So, please do spread the word across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. You can also forward to friends or family from your inbox.
So church-crawlers (or churchies, you decide)—let’s be off!