Page images
PDF
EPUB

particular instance. For example, amongst others, the choirs of Amiens and of Ulm have had their special chroniclers; misericords, and the countless number of themes which they illustrate, have been specially described over and over again in the proceedings of provincial societies in every country and—to refer to England alone—the subject of screens and roodlofts has received special attention in quite recent years. But even this division of the subject, so far as our own country is concerned, is of so extensive a nature, and involves so many general considerations, that in no one book can it be said to have progressed further-broadly speaking—than as regards the west of England. In a volume such as the present one, therefore, it would be hardly possible to attempt more than a general outline of the use of wood sculpture in the decoration of choir and stall work, and of the screens forming the enclosures, or separation from the rest of the church, together with a slight survey of the history of the symbolism so extensively used in the carving of the under parts of the stall seats, known as misericords, of the statuary, and of the elaborate, pictorial, and ornamental sculpture which is so remarkable a feature of Amiens, of Ulm, and of many other great choirs of the later days of Gothic.

We know very little indeed regarding any precise date at which we may place the introduction of a choir, such as we understand it to-day, with its places for the clergy and assistants in the form of ranges of stalls having arm-rests and seats which turn up in order to afford a kind of rest to a position which is neither sitting nor standing. In ancient times churches were entirely without any seating for the faithful, as, indeed, they are now in those of the Oriental rites. The attitude for prayer, in which may be included any part of the assistance at the holy offices, was standing. The arrangement of the choir permitted a view of the altar and the priests, and it was not until about the ninth century that screens forming enclosures rendered the officiating clergy invisible from the body of the church. There would certainly appear to have been no kind of seats before the eighth century. From that time to the eleventh all kinds of attempts were made to introduce them. That they existed in England in a movable form in the eleventh century is certain. for Lanfranc prescribes their removal on Good Friday at the ancient ceremony of creeping to the cross (Decretum pro ord. S. Ben.). The early history of the construction of choirs need not, however, be followed here in detail. It will be sufficient to name, for the needs of the student, such works as those of De Fleury, Guénébault, Ducange, the encyclopædia of Cabrol and Leclercq, and the researches from which we continue to profit, of Mr. Edmund Bis!

Until, roughly speaking, the eleventh century, the chancel was separated from the body of the church by a low screen or balustrade—the cancelli, whence the name of this part is derived. Within these rails stood the altar, and beyond this and facing it was a range of seats against the wall of the apse, and in the centre of them the throne or seat of the bishop. In those days --or when this arrangement was altered and the monks took their places in rows on each side of the choir, in front instead of behind the altar--the long offices and ceremonies at which they assisted necessitated some indulgence or relaxation from the standing position. The earliest practice was the use of a kind of crutch, the head often curiously carved and decorated. Some of these in ivory, wood, and metal, still remain, and are sometimes confounded with the similarly tau-shaped staff, used by a bishop, which became later the crosier as we now know it. Ancient regulations and constitutions show that the use of this support was general. Sometimes protested against, it was disallowed, from

time to time, according as a more or less severe rule prevailed, and it is certain that its use was not confined to the old or infirm. Even the laity availed themselves of it, and there are liturgical instructions regulating when it must be laid down--for instance, during the reading of the gospel.

The origin of the term stall would seem to be from the standing place, or division, in which persons, or, in the case of a stable, animals, are separated one from another. It is impossible to say at what date the form of choir stall with the arm-rest fulfilling the earlier function of the crutch, and the upturned seat, with its support against which the body could rest, became general. Certain it is that from the thirteenth century to the present day no kind of church furniture has altered so little in form. If not the earliest, a very early mention of stalls is in the statutes of the church of Maestricht in the year 1088. The annals of Amiens Cathedral have, at the end of the twelfth century, an order that new canons should have each his stall (stallum) in choir. In the thirteenth the custom is fully established, so that it is hardly necessary to refer to the allusions to stalls which we find in the Historia major of our own Matthew Paris. At Wells there would seem to have been stalls in Bishop Jocelyn's time, according to the register of his election in 1206, now in the library of the dean and chapter. They were removed in 1325 when new ones were ordered, and as they are then termed ruinosi et difformes, we may take it that they had already existed some considerable time. The misericord, or something which seems to correspond with it, is mentioned in several documents of the twelfth century. The actual term itself appears in the constitutions of the abbey of Hirsaugh in Germany, in the first quarter of the twelfth century (Const. Hirs, seu Gengembach ex MSS. Einsiedln), and it will suffice for further early references to quote the following from a Cottonian MS. containing the rules of the Carthusian order: 'Item, tunc stent in sedibus suis versa facie ad altare donec ad misericordias vel super famulas prout tempus postulat inclinent a laudibus enim vigiliae natalis Domini usque in crastinum octabarum apparitionis et a Pasca in crastinum octabarum Pentecostes et infra octabas Corporis Christi assumptionis et natalis beate Mariae et in festis xiï lectionum ad misericordias inclinamus omni vero alio tempore procumbimus super formulas' (Monasticon. vi. 5). A little bit of monkish humour is inscribed on a fragment of a choir stall in the museum of St. Andrew's Church at Freising. It is dated 1423 :

"Cantet in choro, sicut asellus in foro

Hic locus est horum qui cantant, non aliorum.' A habit seems to have grown up in England of late years of using the term miserere instead of misericord for this kind of console beneath the movable seat. It is quite inappropriate and without authority. If any other term besides the Latin misericordia, subsellia or sedicula might be suggested, the French patience or indulgence would be expressive. But we may be very well content with misericord, which is happily replacing, in literature at least, the incorrect miserere. Incidentally it may be noted that the name misericord was also given to a portion of an abbey where the indulgence of eating meat was allowed to the old or infirm.

Stalls were assigned to dignitaries and choir monks in a certain order, and one uniform system seems to have been in vogue in pre-Reformation times in England. Here the Benedictine custom was that the stall of the highest in dignity was the first one on the south side, farthest from the altar, on entering the choir: the others followed from side to side, the lowest in rank nearest the altar, the stall of the claustral prior on the north side, opposite that of the abbot. In cathedral

priories the bishop had his throne on the south side in the chancel. This fashion is still followed in the English cathedrals and in the college chapels of Oxford and Cambridge. At Ely the bishop, who has no throne, and whose abbey became a bishopric in 1109, occupies the abbot's stall. According to the Ordinatio clericorum of Wells (Creighton MS. in the library of the dean and chapter) the dean's place was the first returned stall on the south side at the entrance of the choir, the bishop's at the extreme east end on the same side. 'The English Benedictine arrangement just described seems to be followed at the present day in only two of the many Benedictine monasteries in this country, and those, curiously enough, are not of English origin. They are St. Augustine's Monastery, Ramsgate, and St. Mary's Abbey, Buckfastleigh—both belonging to the Cassinese congregation. But in the monasteries of the English congregation-Downside, Ampleforth, Douai, and Belmont-and also in those of the Beuron congregation at Erdington and of the Gallican (Solesmes) congregation at Farnborough and Appuldurcombe, the plan followed is just the reverse, 2.e. the stall occupied by the abbot is that nearest the altar on the north side of the choir, and the westernmost stalls are those of the lowest in the community (Downside Review, vol. iv. 181).

No traces are left of the ancient arrangement of the bishop's place in the apse, and, so far as we know, no stalls remain of an earlier date than the thirteenth century. Viollet-Le-Duc quotes de Verneilh to show that Hugues de Toucy, bishop of Sens from 1143 to 1168, had had constructed some stalls of oak. But the chronicler responsible for this statement lived in 1294. Still, accepting as we do the thirteenth century as the date of the misericords and stalls of Exeter and Poitiers, for example, it is evident that the system was at that

I Downside has lately reverted to the earlier English plan.

« PreviousContinue »