Church Monuments Society


More Stories from Stones

By CMS in Heritage

Tomb carvings are full of traps for the unwary. We’ve posted before on this blog about some of the stories people tell about these stones. Particularly prone to misunderstanding are the miniature effigies in so many churches. They are often thought to commemorate children, and all sorts of stories develop to explain them – like the ones about the young Hastings woman and her squirrel in Abergavenny ( ).

Before Christmas, the Countryman magazine ( , tweets as @Countrymaned) posted this photo of a miniature effigy in Filey.


The Filey 'Boy Bishop': photo by Mark Whitley, The Countryman

Local tradition describes it as the ‘Boy Bishop’. As part of the general reversal of roles in medieval Christmas festivities, it was customary for boy choristers to choose one of their number to be their ‘bishop’ and lead the celebrations from St Nicholas Day (6 Dec) to Holy Innocents’ Day (28 Dec).

Sally Badham quickly leapt to correct this: ‘No that is a myth. This an early-fourteenth-century effigy of a canon with the upper half crudely restored may have marked a heart burial. CF the so-called boy bishop in Salisbury Cathedral actually very likely to commemorate the heart burial of William de la Corner (d. 1291).’


The Salisbury heart burial: photo Tim Sutton

Things on Twitter can move rapidly and the Countryman editor had already tweeted an alternative explanation, that the effigy represented the ‘heart burial’ of an Augustinian canon from Bridlington Priory. He went on to pay tribute to a perceptive local who saved the carving from destruction: ‘Whatever the truth, this crudely carved but charming little effigy owes his existence to a certain John Fox, as when the church was being restored in 1839, he paid a workman not to smash the carving. The cost? One pint of ale.’

Sally Badham has been working on an article on heart burials – look out for this in a forthcoming Church Monuments.

Comments (2)

  1. Hi, I am an MSc student at Cranfield University studying Forensic Archaeology & Anthropology. My thesis will be on heart burials and examination of a double heart casket (although there may be no evidence of any of the hearts remaining).

    I am interested to find out if there are any other stone heart coffins with two cavities? I am also interested in purchasing the 2019 Journal.

    kind regards

    Denise Hillier

    Denise Hillier

  2. Sorry it’s taken me a while to catch up with this. I’ll forward your double heart coffin query to Sally Badham and ask about spare copies of the 2019 journal.


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