Date of this Version
In a region of East Anglia in southeastern England, there are approximately thirty-two Church of England stone churches that were built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, unique because of their bench end carvings. Because literacy was low in many rural areas of the country in those days, other means besides literature were needed to instruct the "common man" in religious matters. Wood, especially oak, was in abundance and was used to construct and embellish the interior walls, pews, and roofs of the churches. Carving the wood was an art as well as an occupation for certain men, known as carvers, who traveled by foot in a restricted area to perform their work.
In addition to religious instruction, bench end carvings also represented (1) pure decoration; (2) the conveying of messages or warnings to the populace; (3) commentaries on the life and morals of the times; (4) capital sins as well as virtues; (5) church sacraments such as baptism and marriage; (6) animals of various sorts, both real and imagined; (7) devils, saints, and angels; and (8) occupations of the times. These carvings are now considered to be of such archaeological and historical importance that the National Trust of Great Britain has taken steps to preserve them for the enjoyment of future generations.