By the Guild Hall Cabinet Committee
When describing churches like Christ Church Cranbrook, we use the terms “beautiful, majestic, awe- inspiring.” We don’t often use terms like humorous. But our church, like many of the Gothic churches on which our church is patterned, does have humor and fun, especially as seen in our misericords.
Misericords — seats that flip up to provide a ledge for the priest to rest against while not appearing to be sitting — were created so that clergy in the Middle Ages had a place to rest during the long services, as they were not permitted to sit during the entire service. The term misericord comes from Latin (“miseri,” meaning merciful, and “cord,” meaning heart). Misericords were, indeed, merciful to clerics standing for long periods.
While the top part of the seat is plain and austere, the underside which appears when the seat is flipped up, shows a variety of amazing carvings — not religious, but humorous and satirical comments on the world.
We have a total of 14 misericords in the choir area of the chancel – four on the north side (two were removed years ago to make room for the organ console; see them in the Guild Hall cabinets), and ten on the south side.
The north side has four of the seven deadly sins: gluttony, covetousness, anger and sloth. On the south side are lust, charlatanism in art, politics, machinery, jazz, prize fighting, transportation, big business, prohibition, and the enlarging of Christ Church while under construction with founder George Booth and architect Oscar Murray adding two bays to the church! Each misericord is unique with a main carving in the center and small carvings (rondels) on either side depicting themes from the 1920s.
The two misericords removed from the choir area and displayed in the Guild Hall cabinets are pride and envy. Pride depicts a beauty parlor of the 1920’s – a woman and her dog are getting hair permanents. A flower and a peacock are carved into the rondels. Envy shows a wealthy woman holding opera glasses and her handsome dog, with a doorman to assist her, while, on the right, is a poorly clad woman sticking out her tongue at the first woman. The rondels show a silky fat cat near the wealthy woman and a scrawny cat with little fur near the poor woman.
To learn more about our misericords, visit the Guild Hall cabinets. In addition to the two on display are copies of the sketches of the proposed designs for the misericords, along with descriptive notes and handouts to describe each cabinet item in more detail. Watch for an upcoming tour to see all the misericords in person.
Note: The misericords were carved by Irving and Casson of A.H. Davenport, New York City, as was much of the woodwork at Christ Church Cranbrook.