Thursday, February 18, 2010

Colchester Castle- The Very Merry Monk

I had said that I wouldn't blog about places that I had already told at last year, but although I have already blogged about Colchester Castle, I was taken by a temporary Medieval exhibition there. Most of it is taken up with religious items from stained glass and pilgrim badges to bibles and early private prayer books. But what really caught my eye was this wood carving that relates to many of the medieval tales I tell....

The Merry Monk
A wood corbel that once supported the roof at At Mary's Church Higham

Click on the image to make larger

It is a corbel, a bracket that once helped support the roof of St Mary's church in Higham near Ipswich and it dates back to about 1450. It's that that really caught my interest, because this was a time when monks and other religious men and women were being attacked for their perceived greed and corrupt ways and many of the popular stories of this time played on that popular caricature of the gluttonous lazy monk or friar. Stories like the French tale, The Friar and the Butcher, a version of which can be found on my story blog by clicking here...

But although this monk is clearly well fed he is shown as a very happy and I think friendly fella whose love of food and perhaps also ale is something to be celebrated. In that respect he fits in with some of the stories of the day that were less critical of a well off church. Stories like Brother Jocundus in which the boozy Jocundus goes from being a monk reviled by his peers to finally becoming Prior of his monastery!

It's not clear in the picture, but the carved monk is also shown holding a book to emphasise that monasteries were also centers of learning and the dissemination of ancient knowledge and that fits in well with the stories that celebrated this fact. Stories like those of Friar Bacon, a real friar whose later fictional exploits include casting fortune telling heads, astronomy and astrology and much much more. In my version of his stories his head is so full of knowledge that if you were to stand close to him you might well hear his skull creaking and groaning as it worked hard to keep all that wisdom in his head!

This simple carving has then something to say about attitudes toward religion in late medieval England, although it is not surprising perhaps that it is a positive one when considering that it was carved for use in a church. That aside, I think it would have still caught my eye anyway, for its rare in medieval imagery to see such a happy, friendly and welcoming face!

Thanks to everyone at Colchester castle for once again making me feel so welcome.