Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thanksgiving Squirrel!

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a wonderful feast day - and I you haven't forgotten these delightful squirrels that peek out of Ackworth School Quaker samplers. You will be seeing rather more of the one below in a few days' time.
Last week I spent a few days in the North visiting places around Ackworth School. And if you are planning a visit North you might like to go on an Ackworth School Squirrel Hunt, too. The first stop was the nearby charming market town of Selby which has the most amazing Norman Abbey slap bang in the middle of its high street. Go inside and you will find a wealth of decorative detail. See if you can find the rather mischievous (and, dare I say, ratty-looking?) squirrel at the top of this post on the fabulous 14th century Jesse window at the East end. He has a few friends for company!
Another place to pop into is Holy Trinity Church in York, close by the Micklegate Bar. Here there is a permanent exhibition called The Monks of Micklegate and includes facsimiles of a very early bestiary (a book of beasts depicting the Christian virtues as displayed by God's creation), which was made by the monks of Holy Trinity. The original is now in St John's College Oxford. This 800 page book has 90 coloured illustrations. One of which you can see here depicting Noah naming the animals - including our friend the squirrel. A bestiary is a book in which the real and imagined habits of animals are used to symbolise the Christian virtues. For example, bear cubs are shown being born formless and literally licked into shape by their mother after three days: this referenced Christ's time without bodily form between his death and Resurrection three days later, and the role of 'mother Church' in shaping the way people lived their lives.
These bestiaries derive from the Physiologus -  the author is believed to have been abbot of Monte Cassino A.D. 1022-1035. So the Ackworth squirrel has a very ancient tail (sic). It is interesting that moral tales based upon animals such as Aesop's Fables were still being used for teaching children at Ackworth School in the 18th and 19th centuries. For more information on the Micklegate Monks, click here. In the meantime - Happy Holiday to you all from all of us!

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