Elaborately carved ‘mercy seats’
Among the greatest treasures in St Mary’s, are the 28 medieval Misericords that reside in the chancel.
Misericords are hinged seats which when tipped uprights present a ledge on which a user could rest while remaining in a standing-up position.
These surreptitious seats were designed to provide comfort to priests during the long Catholic masses, hence the name ‘misericords’, which arises from the Latin for ‘have pity’.
The misericords in St Mary’s date from c.1445, and were probably made by the famous Ripon school of carvers, who also created (among others) the misericords in Ripon Cathedral, Beverley Minster, and Bridlington Priory.
In several places the back of St Mary’s misericords are scratched with the name ‘Watton’, suggesting that the seats were originally from Watton Priory, which lay 7 miles north of Beverley. It is likely that the misericords came to St Mary’s after Watton Priory was dissolved in the sixteenth century.
As it was not deemed fitting to have religious scenes sat upon, the misericords contain secular scenes. See below for some of our notable misericords:
Before being placed in their current position, the seats resided in the chancel aisles, in the chapels of St Michael and St Catherine. They were moved into the chancel in the late nineteenth century.
WHERE TO FIND THE MISERICORDS: in the chancel, at the eastern end of the church.