English Medieval Misericords: The Margins of Meaning (Boydell Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture)
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Misericord carvings present a fascinating corpus of medieval art which, in turn, complements our knowledge of life and belief in the late middle ages. Subjects range from the sacred to the profane and from the fantastic to the everyday, seemingly giving equal weight to the scatological and the spiritual alike. Focusing specifically on England - though with cognisance of broader European contexts - this volume offers an analysis of misericords in relation to other cultural artefacts of the period. Through a series of themed "case studies", the book places misericords firmly within the doctrinal and devotional milieu in which they were created and sited, arguing that even the apparently coarse images to be found beneath choir stalls are intimately linked to the devotional life of the medieval English Church. The analysis is complemented by a gazetteer of the most notable instances. Dr Paul Hardwick is Professor in English, Leeds Trinity University College.
10/04/2011 14:58 Page 16 E N G L I SH M E D I EVA L M I SE R IC O R D S 16 appears to be inversely proportionate to available verifiable fact. That antecedents of the motif appear in Roman art as early as the late first or early second century AD is certain, but why such an image enjoyed widespread popularity throughout medieval Christendom remains an intriguing puzzle with which scholars continue to wrestle. Fran and Geoff Doel’s designation of the Green Man as ‘the most prolific
activities taking place both indoors and outdoors, with a particular emphasis upon activities pertaining to the lower classes. In her overview of village life as it is depicted on English misericords, M. G. Challis opines that, ‘[i]t is clear that those who were responsible for the wood carvings in our churches were not prepared to accept any strait jacket of strict Christian beliefs’.9 This view of the village craftsman being allowed free rein happily to carve what he observes around him is
interesting to speculate upon whether each carving was made with reference to the print or if, returning to a point made by Barton above, a patron would perhaps ask for a copy of a carving that had taken his fancy elsewhere. Certainly, we may detect instances in which earlier carvings have influenced later work. It is likely that substantially the same group of craftsmen worked on the stalls of Lincoln Cathedral and Chester Abbey around the last quarter of the fourteenth century, explaining not
39 Ibid., I (A) 565–6. 40 Scott, ‘Sow and Bagpipe Imagery’, 287–90. See also E. A. Block, ‘Chaucer’s Millers and their Bagpipes’, Speculum 29 (1954), 239–43, and E. A. Block, ‘History at the Margins: Bagpipers in Medieval Manuscripts’, History Today 39 (1989), 42–8. 41 This is illustrated and discussed in Block, ‘Musical Comedy’, pp. 218–19. 42 Robert Boenig, ‘The Miller’s Bagpipe: a Note on the Canterbury Tales A565–566’, English Language Notes 21 (1983): 6. On the variety of interpretations
2 marks with his board, at this time there was scarcely one willing to accept any vicarage at £20 or 20 marks. Within a little time, however, vast numbers of men whose wives had died in the pestilence flocked to take orders, many of whom were illiterate, and as it were mere laymen, save in so far as they could read a little, although without understanding.28 Whilst the heightened awareness of one’s own mortality engendered by the plague would undoubtedly have sharpened lay devotion – already