Stalls used to delineate the capitular space within churches. During sung offices canons and priests sat on these seats. While stalls were practical objects allowing men to fight cold by isolating them from cool stones, it can also be seen as a symbolic object. Indeed it was only after the new cleric was attributed a stall that he fully joined his community. This is evidenced by the word « install » (in – stall) to talk about the taking of a new ecclesiastical office.
The stall appears during the first centuries of the Church’s history but the misericord, or mercy seat, appears later. Its oldest mention is found in Hirsau monastery’s Constitutiones (Germany) from the 11th century. This small console on the underside of the folding seat was intended to support a person in a partially standing position. A comfort option adopted after many discussions about what was perceived as depraved customs, namely clerics seating during offices (Petrus Damianus 1007-1072).
Because of its location and function the misericord could not be ornamented with religious motifs without being sacrilege. That explains why the vast majority of misericord’s decor is about the daily secular life or animals. Only 4% of French misericords shows a decor drawing inspiration from the Scriptures.
Our stall’s misericord depicts four succulent leaves. The left post is adorned with a twisted pilaster topped by a foliated capital while on the right post a turbaned man is carved.
On the left side a mitred man holding a crosier in his left hand and giving his blessing with the right hand is centred inside a low-relief cartouche. The aedicula in which he stands is formed of two bulbous columns and a conch. The dog by his side allow us to identify him as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, leader in the reform of Benedictine monasticism that caused the formation of the Cistercian order. He is indeed traditionnally depicted mitred and holding a crosier, accompanied by a dog.
The depiction of the saint abbot on our stall might indicate the seat was made for the abbot of the patron church.