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 (https://churchmonumentssociety.org/2018/10/26/stories-from-stones-part-2 ).
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).’
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.
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