Object of the Month – Janaury 2011
Medieval owl misericord
This carved oak misericord came from the Whitefriars monastery which was founded by the Carmelite friars in 1342. The dormitory and one side of the cloister still survive and can be seen on the corner of Gulson Road and London Road. (map)
Misericords provided a ledge for the friars to lean on, so they could remain standing during long services. The ledge could also be folded down to form a seat. The carved design was then on the underside.
The wise old owl is an endearing and familiar figure from our childhood stories. However, in the medieval period the owl was viewed as a portent of doom or a bad omen, so it is an unusual subject for a misericord in a monastery.
When he used this particular misericord, the friar was reminded that by sitting on the owl he was preventing the bad omen from happening. Its message was that only the church had the power to crush evil.
You can find the owl misericord in the City of Spires section in the Herbert’s History Gallery.