Return to the Bestiary Elephant


Deriving from the Latin misericordia, meaning "compassion," a misericord provided unobtrusive support for choir members obliged to stand during lengthy medieval services. Seldom seen, these wooden ledges along the back row of the choir stall often are intricately carved and decorated with a variety of delightful plant and animal scenes.

The earliest complete set of misericords, which probably date to before 1279, are those of Exeter Cathedral. The elephant that decorates this misericord is thought to have been carved from a drawing of the animal given to Henry III by the French King Louis IX in 1255 for his menagerie in the Tower of London. It is the only one now on public display.