“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Depressing Chair of Bishops Cannings

Bishops Cannings is a village in Wiltshire, which is a short drive north-east of the town of Devizes. The village church is the Church of St Mary the Virgin and it is believed that the church was built in the second half of the 12th century and gradually augmented and improved over the years. It is during this lengthy history that the church became home to a very depressing chair.

The chair in question is a type of pew that can be found inside the church and which has a  “hand of meditation” painted on its back. The hand is decorated with a number of depressing phrases in Latin, that are presumably designed to make the person sitting in the pew consider their life, their actions and their life's meaning.

The accompanying inscription dates the “hand of meditation” to the 15th century: The origin of this ancient pew is uncertain. It is thought by some to be a confessional; by others a monastic carrel or study desk. Only the painted panel is medieval and belongs to the 15th century. The surrounding woodwork seems to have been added in the 18th century. 

The inscriptions on the hand are all rather depressing, and apparently translate to the below:

The inscription of the palm reads:
What thou oughest to think upon.

The thumb reads:
Thou knowest not how much.
Thou knowest not how often.
Thou hast offended god.

The index finger reads:
Thy end is bitter.
Thy life is short.
Thou hast come into the world.
With sin.

The middle finger reads:
Thou shalt carry nothing with thee but what thou hast done.
Thy life thou canst not lengthen.
Thy death thou canst not escape.
Thou shalt die.

The fourth finger reads:
Thou knowest not whither thou shalt go.
Thou knowest not how thou shalt die.
Thou knowest not where thou shalt die.
The hour of death is uncertain.

The little finger reads:
Thou shalt quickly be forgotten by thy friends.
Thy best will seldom do anything for thee.
He to whom thou leaveth they goods will seldom do anything for thee.
Thy end is miserable. 

Notwithstanding the very sombre and depressing nature of the inscriptions on the chair, it is a very striking piece of furniture and I have never seen anything like it in any other church that I have visited. Who knows, perhaps it is unique?

The Church of St Mary the Virgin.

The Pew.

A confessional or a carrel? 

The "Hand of Meditation". 

Translating the hand. 

Pictures, Wiltshire (August 2014).

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