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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Source of text: Historic Ludlow ” The Misericords and Choir Stalls” by Peter Klein (1986)
34 thoughts on “Misericords of St Laurence – Part I”
I play misericords on the piano when I’ve had a bad day. It’s not actually possible to play misericords on a ukulele.
What?? Oh come on, you know it had to be said! And most probably by me. 😀
Haha… yes I had no idea what a misericord was – it does sound like a musician having a bad hair day!
So next question: WHY are they called misericords?
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 😉
Misericordia I was familiar with as I’ve sung them before but I wasn’t sure how that related to a seat. Thanks for the explanation. 🙂
Google is my friend 🙂
I had heard the word misericord before, but had no idea what it referred to – possibly something fabric related, or musical. How wrong I was! It’s amazing that such detailed carvings are quite hidden away.
Odd word for something that is simply a shelf to rest ones bum on.
I can only echo my comment on part 2.
Regards as always, Pete. x
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