Tuesday, November 16, 2021


Pigs in blankets

Strolling around Hereford cathedral the other week, once again impressed by the richness of detail almost everywhere, we came across a monument consisting of a recumbent effigy set in a niche. The style of the arch and the ballflowers decorating it suggest a date somewhere in the first half of the 14th century, but the ballflowers are outnumbered by tiny carved pigs – sixteen of them – each wearing on its back a heraldic blanket and each snuffling its way towards a carefully carved acorn. These contented swine suggest that the monument commemorates a member of the Swinefield or Swinfield family. There was a Bishop Richard Swinfield, successor to the famous and saintly Thomas Cantelupe and a man who successfully prepared the case for Thomas’s canonisation. But it’s not this Swinfield: he has his own monument elsewhere in the cathedral.

The monument of which I show a detail is said to belong to John Swinfield, who died in 1311 and was the cathedral’s Precentor. Clearly a member of the bishop’s family, he may have been one of Richard’s nephews, real or metaphorical. The precentor was the member of the chapter responsible for overseeing the musical side of worship.* He was thus a very important figure in the daily life of the cathedral, and could also deputise for the dean on occasion.§ Swinfield’s position, then, certainly merited a monument as large and prominent as this one. Few monuments, though, have such charming details as this. 

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* And, sometimes, for wider respsponsibilities in the organisation of worship in the cathedral.

§ The heraldry on the pigs relates to the arms of the Deanery.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I too thought of "Pigs in Blankets" for the title, when I saw the pictures! Yes, I think the medieval visitor seeing this tomb was meant to laugh too. Interestingly, in a book I saw recently on "The Pig" the author reckoned that the fat, pink variety was produced only by selective breeding in the post-medieval period. Was somebody telling porkies?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Good point about the pigs. I doubt that the pink colouring is at all authentic. I remember talking years ago with Joe Henson, the late farmer at the Cotswold Farm Park, about premodern breeds, and he thought that it general the pigs would have been smaller than those of today. But fat would have been encouraged, for flavour, in pig husbandry.