Tag Archives: Chester Cathedral

Monasteries- 1066 +

DSCN2029William the Conqueror was committed to a programme of monastery building in his new kingdom.  The invasion of England, complete with papal banner, was after all a crusade.  However, in comparison to the twelfth century when monastic foundation and building reached an apex the first Normans on English shores were relatively slow off the mark.  Chester, Colchester and Shrewsbury were early establishments as were Tewkesbury and Lewes which housed monks from Cluny.  All of the above mentioned were funded by Norman barons eager to emulate their monarch and no doubt to give thanks for doing so very nicely out of the English venture.

In addition to these new foundations and, in the North, refoundation of early sites such as Whitby there was another significant change in the Church.  Leading Anglo-Saxon abbots and bishops with a few notable exceptions such as Wulfstan of Worcester were shown the door and replaced by William’s men headed up by Lanfranc of Bec who promptly reorganised and reformed the Church.

Lanfranc did use some of the earlier Anglo-Saxon administrative structure including the incorporation of cathedrals into monastic foundations.  Given-Wilson lists them: Bath ( & Wells), Canterbury, Carlisle (hence my interest), Coventry, Durham, Ely, Norwich, Rochester, Winchester and Worcester.  Both Canterbury (pictured at the beginning of this post) and Worcester had been founded before 1066 and may have acted as the models which Lanfranc chose to emulate. Carlisle was home to an order of Augustinian Canons the other nine were Benedictine.  These cathedrals were at the heart of their dioceses with a bishop at their head.  The monastery would have been headed up by an abbot or a prior – the two posts need not be held by the same person which could, and in deed did, lead to some lively disagreements.

Not all cathedrals were staffed by monks.  Some cathedrals were ‘secular’ – which means that the clergy who ran the cathedrals were not attached to a religious order.  Lincoln Cathedral was never associated with a monastery and neither bizarrely, given the number of monasteries in the vicinity, was York.

2 Comments

Filed under Carlisle, Cathedrals, Eleventh Century

Misericords

DSC_0046Misericords from the Latin word meaning pity are also known as ‘mercy seats’.  These are the ledges or rests in choir stalls so that clergy singing the divine offices could rest their weary legs.   The clerical perches were often hinged so the misericord carving could only be seen when the perch was raised. Many oak choir stalls with their misericords were placed in churches during the medieval period; their carvers are largely anonymous and the meaning behind the carvings sometimes lost but they remain a fascinating glimpse of the past.

Hemingborough in Yorkshire has some of the earliest examples of misericords in this country and Exeter Cathedral has a complete set dating from the Thirteenth Century.

The carvers used their imaginations when they created each misericord.  Some scenes come from the Bible; others like the foliate green men sporting leaves from their mouths come from an earlier folklore; some images such as elephants come from medieval bestiaries.  Hyenas were popular because not only were they an exotic species but they had legendary status as well according to Richard Hyman in that they were supposed to disinter and eat corpses…lovely.  In addition they represented “vice feeding on corruption.” (Hyman: 21)  Other inspirations came from everyday life; from animals realistic and fanciful and from mythical creatures such as mermaids.  A carver in Fairford captured a woman raising a ladle to hit her unfortunate spouse  .  In Ludlow a man warms himself in front of his fire and in Manchester a game of backgammon can be spotted.  Less amusingly in Lincoln a knight tumbles from his hours mortally injured.

Sometimes it is possible to spot a carver who has travelled around a locality.  Greystoke Parish Church has some delightful misericords that are matched by similar examples in Dacre and also in Cartmel.  Carlisle Cathedral has some impressive examples as does Hexham Abbey.  Perhaps the man who carved them travelled from one church to the next in search of work.

DSCN1236

Further south Ripon, Richmond and Chester have some intriguing misericords as does Wakefield, Halifax, Gloucester Cathedral, Worcester, Southwell Minster and Ludlow.  In fact these lovely little works of art not only give an insight to medieval craftsmanship and mindset but they can also be alarmingly addictive…you’ve been warned and I’ve not even started on bench ends, corbels, capitals, grotesques and gargoyles.

DSC_0036This misericord from Cartmel depicts a rather alarming two-tailed mermaid with her mirror and comb.  In medieval times a mermaid symbolised lust and temptation.  I’m not sure that the Cartmel mermaid would tempt anyone with that ribcage!

5 Comments

Filed under Cathedrals, Churches and Chapels