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Friday, 1 March 2013

Misericords at St David’s

St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire.NPRN: 306   DI2008_1029

St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire is considered the holiest site in Wales. It stands on the site of a sixth-century monastery founded by St David, whose relics were kept in the Cathedral until the reformation when they were confiscated along with the relics of Justinian. The Cathedral itself is an iconic building, but while the eyes of visitors are often drawn upwards to its impressive nave ceiling and stonework, some of the delightful details of St David’s Cathedral can be overlooked.

Misericords are seats usually found in the quire of a church or cathedral, designed to fold away when not in use. The underside of the seat has a small shelf that a user can lean against to reduce discomfort during long periods of standing during services. Their name is derived from the Latin ‘misericordia’, meaning mercy. As a result, they are sometimes known as ‘mercy seats’ or ‘pity seats’. As with much woodwork in churches and cathedrals, misericords are often skilfully carved, showing a wide variety of subjects.

Each of the misericords in St David’s Cathedral were carved from a single block of oak. The hidden position of misericords freed craftsman from the constraints of traditional ecclesiastical art and allowed them to be freer in their work. They were inspired by bestiaries, fables and folk tales and were often rather irreverent! The images below show some of the misericords that can be seen in the quire at St David’s:

Misericords were used my members of the clergy to provide respite during long services. The words painted above each one refer to the name and/or office of the person using them at a particular time.
NPRN: 306   DI2012_2607

This misericord shows pilgrims in a boat, and was taken by Mrs. Trenchard Cox in 1948. NPRN: 306   DI2008_0016

A misericord showing a ‘ship’s carpenter’, also taken in 1948.
NPRN: 306   DI2008_0162

Faces like this one were popular subjects of misericords.
NPRN: 306   DI2012_2603

Fantastic beasts such as this one were often inspired by medieval bestiaries.
NPRN: 306  

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