A misericord is a hinged
wooden seat designed to provide relief during both the "sit down" and "stand up" parts of a religious ceremony.
During the "sit down" parts, the misericord is flipped down and used as the seat bottom of a conventional chair (see diagram below).
During the "stand up" parts, the misericord can be flipped up and a supporter (i.e. a ledge
) on the "underside" of the misericord used to rest one's derriere
on (see diagram below).
Misericords are found in the quire stalls of many cathedrals throughout Europe.
Those dating from the eleventh through to the fifteenth centuries typically have wooden carvings in the area marked by the slashes in the above diagrams.
These carvings range from the crude to the elegant and are derived from a wide range of themes.
Although biblical scenes are fairly common, they are definitely outnumbered by scenes depicting medieval life, folk stories and the natural world.
One short (70 page) book on misericords in my library has at least one photograph of a misericord carving per page.
The carvings include:
The skill and effort that went into these carvings is all the more impressive when one considers that the carvings are generally not visible (either hidden under the flipped down misericord or behind the person resting against the flipped up misericord).
The word misericord derives from the Latin words for 'pity' and 'heart'.
- personal experience in a few English cathedrals
- A Little Book of Misericords by Mike Harding; copyright © 1998 Mike Harding; published by Aurum Press Ltd., 25 Bedford Avenue, London, WC1 3AT; ISBN 1 85410 562 0.