[Lat. misericordia: ‘act of mercy’]
Hinged choir-stall seat, which, when tipped up, gives support to the clergy, who according to the Rules of St Benedict (6th century) were required to stand during the Divine Offices, consisting of the seven Canonical Hours. The term is first mentioned in the 11th-century Constitutiones of Hirsau Abbey, Germany (chapter 29), when they were confined to the upper rows of the stalls and used by the old and weak monks only, who had previously been allowed crutches. The use of misericords is restricted to western Europe. Their undersides are usually carved, and the earliest surviving examples date from the 13th century (e.g. Exeter Cathedral, c. 1230–60).
In contrast to other church art, the subject-matter of misericords is predominantly secular, illustrating the humorous side of life, proverbs, games, fables, professions, and a vast repertory of grotesques, animals, and plants. Scenes based on the scriptures are few (e.g. Amiens Cathedral, 1508–19...