Church Carvings, a talk by Richard Colbran

At our 16th November meeting Richard gave us a talk about Church Carvings.

Richard has done extensive studies of church carvings and produced a presentation to show to the club.

There are Green man carvings dating back to 2nd and 3rd century in Europe.

In those days there were no communications as in today’s standards, only pictures and verbal descriptions.  Therefore, some early carvings in stone and wood were very inaccurate.

The bestiary monks are collection of carvings of beasts which on translation to the carvers looked very unlike elephants, reptiles and the like.

Misericords (sometimes named mercy seat) is a small wooden structure formed on the underside of a folding seat in a church which when the seat is folded up is intended to act as a shelf to support a person in a partially standing position during long periods of prayer.  The underside sometimes has a small shelf a misericord allowing the user to lean against it slightly reducing their discomfort they were usually skilfully carved and often show detailed scenes, despite being hidden underneath the seat of the choir around the altar.  Most of these survived the Reformation period as the seats were mostly down.

An ancient carving in Towneley Chapel is of a Manticore which Richard replicated and then donated to Towneley.

The renown, Ripon School of carving, produced great carvers who carved in many Cathedrals like Manchester (some of the finest in the country), Beverley, Bridlington and Kirkstall Abbey.  Some of the more unusual carvings were Historic Journeys, Amorous Fidler in Chichester Cathedral where he is displayed as playing the fiddle and kissing a young maiden also.

Carvings would also appear in various Churches throughout the country as carvers (wood and stone) would travel to do their work and replicated their previous work.  These appeared on side benches and end of pews.

Some of the more bizarre carvings are Harpies, a woman’s head on a bat’s body.  A Mermaid with mirror and comb.  An owl mobbed by two crows. A drunken tapster.  A man holding moneybags into the jaws of hell, a bible tale of greed.

Green men with foliage or grapes are a common occurrence and Richard replicated these.  They are also known as Jack in the Green, John Barleycorn and can be found in hidden corners in churches.

Grotesque gargoyles and green man.  Some very good examples are in York Minster of toothache, tongue pulling and bare bottoms and genitalia where the carver wasn’t paid for his work.

Gargoyles are usually connected with a waterspout as in Notre Damme in Paris.

Durham Cathedral have pigs with piglets in the roof bosses