Misericords of St Laurence – Part I

The Parish Church in Ludlow is famous for its 15th century misericords in the chancel stalls. These ignored carvings are found underneath choir stall seats and are mostly found in areas of the country whose wealth came from the medieval wool trade. The largest collection is housed at Salisbury Cathedral (106) compared to Hereford Cathedral (40) and the 28 intricately carved designs here in Ludlow.

Finally I have managed to get some decent photos of them all, so let me introduce you to them:

North Side 1 – 5

N1: There are several interpretations of this one. A scold wearing an outrageous horned head-dress or hennin being ridiculed, though the woman does not wear the scold’s bridle so it may represent street entertainment. It may also be a warning against misplaced vanity.

N1

N2: The central corbel is the form of a Harpy, a young woman’s head being given the body and wings of a bat. Her supporters are bats – creatures of darkness and symbolic evil. This could be a cautionary tale about women using their charms to tempt a man aka Adam and Eve.

N2
N2

N3: This is Ludlow’s most famous one and shows a dishonest alewife who has given short measure and has been thrown over the shoulder of the devil. A demon, Tutivillus on the left reads a long list of her misdemeanours. Another devil  plays the bagpipes to serenade her journey to the gaping mouth of Hell shown on the right.

N3
N3

N4: My favourite. A mermaid holds a mirror in one hand and a now missing comb in her left. Two dolphins add to the theme. Yet another anti-feminine theme, the mermaid or siren being symbolic of the woman luring men away from the path of salvation.

N4
N4

N5: A scene of domestic discord involving three male figures. The one on the right is trying to restrain the other two, whilst a cauldron bubbles away on the hearth. The kite-shaped leaf on the right is typically found on the Ludlow misericords and a stylised foliage often used in court manuscripts. The whole of the carving represents one of the seven sins – Anger.

N5
N5

Source of text: Historic Ludlow ” The Misericords and Choir Stalls” by Peter Klein (1986)

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Heyjude

I now live in the UK, but spent several years travelling and then living in South Africa. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

33 thoughts on “Misericords of St Laurence – Part I”

  1. I’d never heard of misericords before you (I think) posted about them once before. The photos are excellent, and so’s the interpretation of the images. Thanks by the way for enlightening me about the porcupine and leading me to species differentiation between porcupine and hedgehog.

    1. I did post a few images during an A-Z challenge, but they weren’t such good photos (it is quite dark in the chancel) so I wanted to take the new camera there to see how it performed. The interpretations are all down to the information by Peter Klein. I have read other texts on them, but not so informative. Medieval Britain was an extraordinary time! In the course of hedgehog investigation I did discover that there are heraldic hedgehogs though mostly in European families, not England.

  2. So many ways for a woman to be bad! It fair warms your heart to think that such misogyny is now consigned to history – oh, hang on….

    Lovely, interesting images and I’ve learnt what a harpy actually is. Next time I hear a woman referred to as a harpy I can point out that she doesn’t have a bat’s body (which makes me wonder if that’s where the term “old bat” comes from?)

    1. I agree! I don’t think I’d have wanted to be a woman in those days. And I am learning a lot from studying these carvings. makes me want to visit Salisbury, though I’d probably need a few days to capture all 106!

    1. You’re back? Yes, in one respect I am trying to finish off my Ludlow photography, but as for moving it doesn’t look like any time soon 😦 In fact I’m resigned to next spring now.

    1. I guess we’ll never know! Besides the fact that the church was run by men for thousands of years too so women were always blamed for everything thanks to Eve!

  3. Fantastic photos. These remind me of the misericords in the Ripon Cathedral in N. Yorkshire. Every time we wandered through them, we’d discover something new. Now I wish I’d paid more attention and tried to figure out the backstory behind more of those carvings!

        1. The shelf was called a misericord or mercy seat, from the Latin word for mercy or ‘to have pity on’, misericordia. Misericords are attached to the underside of the stall bench, which could be raised or lowered; the misericord is only visible (and useable) when the bench is raised. Apparently the people were supposed to remain standing during a sermon so couldn’t sit on the seats. When raised the misericord has a slight shelf on which a person could rest one’s bum. Standing through a 2 hour sermon sounds pretty miserable to me 😉

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