Saturday, April 15, 2017


Surrounding the chancel of the church where Shakespeare lies buried in Stratford-upon-Avon are 26 intricately decorated choir stalls that date from the 15th century, as I discovered on a recent visit.

Inside each is a misericord (from the Latin for "act of mercy"), a wooden ledge that allowed infirm priests to sit during masses and divine offices, without appearing to do so.

If you wonder why the little butt-rests were considered merciful, you must recall priests had to stand throughout two masses and eight divine offices, which they were required to attend every day.

Medieval people applied the word "misericord" not only to these little ledges, but to any kindness shown infirm priests, including gifts of meat during Lent and blankets during winter.

But mercy didn't stop with priests.

Seats for the infirm were also provided in churches to laymen. Church walls customarily featured built-in benches, where infirm parishioners could sit during mass.

It's from the custom we get the expression, "The weak must go to the wall."

"Victory is to the strong and the weak must go to the wall," Hitler once told a group of his officers, meaning, in our dog-eat-dog world, only the strong deserve to win.

Sadly, his sentiment is alive and well in Washington and many state capitals today.

Why pay for misericords, when our billionaire masters can have more?
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