History and Place Somerset: North Cadbury Bench Ends

North Cadbury has a wonderful set of carved benchends, mainly dating from the 1530s. This is just a random selection of a large number. They vary from finely observed faces to somewhat naive depictions. Many have a religious theme such as the Madonna and Child or St Margaret. Others show buildings like a church with central tower, clearly not North Cadbury, and a windmill, symbol of the area's grain wealth.

Among the images of people are a man with a packhorse, possibly the miller's man taking a customer's corn to be ground. The fine profile heads might have been members of the congregation, possibly they had contributed to the cost of the carvings. The kissing couple is an unusual carving for a church but the flautist may have been in the church band.

Many birds and animals are displayed. Some like the leaping dolphin appear to be heraldic symbols. The stork was regarded as a bird of good omen and the pelican, believed at that period to feed her young with her own blood, was a symbol of divine love. More familiar would have been the cat devouring a mouse caught in a trap and the snails. Among the fantastic beasts are a griffin and a unicorn cleverly carved to fit the shape of the benchend. However the benchend with the flagon, representing Joseph of Arimathea has clearly been cut much later to fit its current place.

The beautiful church of North Cadbury is well worth a visit. For more on the history of North Cadbury parish see the draft history under work in progress.