The Mercy Seat: A Teaser
Posted by gninja on June 22, 2006
Known as misericords, these were literally devices offering mercy to the monk at prayer. Every day, eight times a day, monks were required to attend the Divine Office and pray, standing, for long periods of time. In order to offer some level of alleviation to the physical strain, hinged seats were created so that, when in the up position, a small shelf projected outward. The monk could then take some pressure off his feet, but still remain upright, by leaning against this shelf.
Frequently, the underpart of the seat, which you see in the image above, depicted figures and scenes we would not expect to see in the domain of the Divine Office.
These images could take the form of grotesques or babewyns (hybrids), lascivious vignettes, or even scenes of quotidian lay life. In my next post, I'll discuss the function of these images, why they'd be permitted in a sacred space, and, perhaps of most interest, what they have to do with a monk's buttocks.