The ancient “geometers” believed that geometry was the key to comprehending the incomprehensible; that an understanding of its inherent truths was the key to unlocking the mystery of how the “Gods” created order from chaos. The development of geometric constructions (the truths rather than proofs) became the foundational tool of the artisans to create a built world of inherently sound, durable and pleasing forms.
And it all started from nothing:
Across the Ionian Sea, a gentle wind blows from the West with the fading of winter–the breath of the God Zephyr, a harbinger of spring and the bringer of light. A God whose name would, as we will see, appropriately evolve to produce the word “zero.” The geometers did not use or represent zero as a number, but rather as a notation to show the location of the focus of a circle. Like the true center of a wheel, it is the only place that does not rotate, for it is a place of no dimension. There is nothing to rise, nothing to fall. All revolves around it. And like Zephyr, the renewer of life, the zero of the ancient artisans served as the seed of all shape and form. website
— Jim Tolpin, reprinted from the byhandandeye.com website, which explores artisan geometry
Over the weekend I plowed through several thousand photos on my mission to gather together misericords featuring woodworkings. I found enough examples to split into two posts: today are the carvers and (perhaps) the carpenters will be posted by next weekend. The carvers and their tools are from France, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium and Great Britain.
There is a huge range of detail from one misericord to the next. From the simplicity of the mallet to a highly detailed scene of a carver at work on a statue. One carver might have been contracted, and paid by the day, to provide all the misericords in a church. In other instances a master carved was hired to plan all the carvings and oversee a crew of carvers.
The misericord below was categorized as ‘Forestry’ but it looks like a woodworker is riving a block of wood for a misericord.
In another French church two carvers are found working on a misericord.
In the entries for two churches I found the same misericord listed. The lighting and angle of the photos are different but the missing piece on the carver’s face, his clothes, number of fingers and tools are the same. This misericord mystery is just a case of to which church in East-central France does it actually belong.
Some of the oldest misericords in Great Britain are in Exeter Cathedral. The elegant arms in the misercord below are dated 1220-1270. If you would like to read a short section (54 pages) about the Exeter misericords including a bit about their construction, how they were moved within the cathedral and some destructive ‘work’ here is a link to “The Misericords of Exeter Cathedral” written by Kate M. Clarke in 1920. Note: the remainder of the book is about other non-misericord sites in Devon
If you have any confusion on the configuration of a seat in a choir stall and the location of the misericords the two figures below should help. In the photo the red arrow points to a seat that is down. At the front edge of the seat you can see a small ledge or bracket. The back row of choir stalls shows the seats up and the location of the misericords.
Another view of ‘Seats Up/Seats Down’ is from the delightful little book “Choir Stalls and Their Carvings – Examples of Misericords from English Cathedrals and Churches” written and illustrated by Emma Phipson in 1896. You can find it here.
The gallery has several more carvers or ‘kervers’ for you to enjoy.