Misericord showing a woman picking nits from her daughter’s hair

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Misericord showing a woman picking nits from her daughter’s hair

A misericord was a tip-up seat which allowed a priest to perch rather than stand through long medieval services; they are a distinctive furnishing of colleges, chapels and cathedrals. Their undersides were commonly carved with scenes taken from everyday life.

This misericord of the 15th century comes from the Hems collection in Exeter Museum, which consists largely of West Country woodwork salvaged during Victorian church restorations; the precise origin of the carving is unknown. It shows a woman searching through the long hair of a young girl; there can be little doubt this is a mother picking nits from her daughter's hair.

Occasionally medieval sources tell us of such intimate relationships. For example the remarkable documents relating to the peasants of Montaillou in southern France tell us that they picked nits only from close members of the family.

Acknowledgments: RAM Museum