Wood Carvings in English Churches, I. Misericords Francis Bond



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Wood Carvings in English Churches, I. Misericords  by  Francis Bond

Wood Carvings in English Churches, I. Misericords by Francis Bond
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PREFACEIn the year 1125, St Bernard of Clairvaux, writing to William, Abbot of St Thierry, asks :— What mean those ridiculous monstrosities in the courts of cloisters - those filthy apes, those fierce lions, those monstrous centaurs, those half-men, those spotted tigers, those fighting soldiers and horn-blowing hunters - many bodies under one head, or many heads on one body - here a serpents tail attached to a cjuadrupcd, there a cjuadrupeds head on a fish - here a beast presenting the foreparts of a horse, and dragging after it the rear of a goat - there a horned animal with the hind parts of a horse?It is a question which must have suggested itself to many, when surveying the wealth of imagery on a Norman doorway or the carvings of stalls and benches.

What does it all mean ? How did it get into churches of all places ? And where did it come from ? This is the first subject which is dealt with in this volume. To deal with it adequately would be to write a complete History of Ecclesiastical Zoology as it is set forth in the Bestiaries, the popular text-books in the Middle Ages- there is not room here for any such ambitious attempt.

Yet even this brief synopsis of the contents of the Bestiaries may be of service- for the elucidation of the meaning and origin of the subjects represented on the misericords throws light on medieval art in general- on the representations in stone on Norman doorways and fonts, on the carvings of Gothic capitals and arcading, on wall paintings, incised tiles, stained glass, and much else.But the carvings tell us much more than what mediaeval people thought about Birds, Beasts, and Fishes.

They are a record of just what stately historians omit, and what it is of real interest to know- not the ways of courts and politicians, campaigns and generals, but the simple everyday life of ordinary folk- they constitute a History of Social Life in England in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries as it was lived by common folk- a history which represents things as they are without the prejudices and prepossessions which so often make written record untrustworthy. What we see is an honesttranscript of what went on every day in the cottages and the streets, the fields and the woods- we see country folk ploughing, sowing, weeding, mowing, reaping, carting, threshing- fattening and killing the family pig, sheep-shearing, milking - we see them enjoying their sports and pastimes - we hear the alehouse jests, the wise saws and modern instances, hoary witticisms, proverbs and nursery rhymes.

The limitations of their Bible knowledge and of their acquaintance with the legends of the Saints throw a curious light on the religious atmosphere of bourgeois life. Their opinions on music and art and dancing, on the high observances of chivalry, on the preaching and mendicant friars, on the medireval doctor and dentist, find forcible expression.

They are the censors of vice- no form of immorality escapes theii lash. The carvings present to us a picture—realistic and true—of that history which does not find its way into books.Nor is the work of the carvers to be neglected in a comprehensive history of English art. The art of the easel picture is a great art, but it is not all. There is another art- humbler it may be, but, unlike the former, indigenous, and that savours of the soil.

Beginning with lovely illuminations of psalters and missals, it passes into the carvings of stalls and bench ends, and into popular chapbooks and almanacks. Many a figure scene on the misericords is well worth study, while from the carving of leaf and bloom modern designers might well take lessons.The book is the first attempt, here or abroad, to deal comprehensively with the whole subject of the carvings of misericords.

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