Thursday, 9 August 2012

Craft your own medieval Sciapod - Part One

The Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ragged Ramblers have had many notables amongst its ragged throng including Sir John Mandeville the 14th century writer and explorer noted for his Travels of Sir John Mandeville, in which he claimed to have journeyed as far and wide as India and China and discovered many 'curiosities', including dog headed peoples and sciapods - A race of people who sheltered from the sun under their one great foot.

Sciapod on far left
There are some who doubt Sir John's word that he traveled so far and wide, but that is not a debate we shall dwell on here, for what is more important to we of the Learned Society is the spirit of Sir John's work - The idea that there were exotic and unusual worlds and things yet to be discovered. A noble idea that we subscribe to and one very popular long ago. Certainly the idea of strange peoples and creatures was an important one and they found their way into many a medieval illuminated manuscript and some onto carvings in medieval churches. Strange when you consider their pagan qualities!

A two footed sciapod on a bench end (End of pew)
 One of the few depictions of a sciapod carved in wood in England is the one above that comes from St Marys church in Dennington in Suffolk, although he is clothed presumably for modesty and also he has two large feet, so a bit of confusion perhaps on the part of the carver! A mistake maybe, but still I was so taken with this bench end carving that I thought I would have a go at creating my own, although not in relief on a block of wood, preferring instead to reproduce it on a staff (Some of us older Ragged Ramblers do use them on longer rambles and it also affords us the opportunity to 'stroke oak' whenever the desire should take us)

A monstrous foot
 To that end I went to see the Contributions Secretary who is well known for always having wood. A well deserved reputation and I found amongst his large collection a short piece of what looked liked elder, but is not. It is far denser and tight grained and so excellent for carving small detail. It had also been sawn from the branch at an angle, which as you can see from my early roughing out above, already lent itself to the ball of a giant foot and so assisted with the design of my sciapod - How for example  would I be able to fit a prostrate figure traditionally depicted as sheltering under his foot, onto a narrow staff?

Plan for my sciapod staff
 The answer was to have my sciapod sitting upright and as my initial plans shows, to have the fellow resting his back upon his large foot. Mine was to also be a mix of the early drawn/written descriptions and also the carved example. For like the church version he would be clothed to add further interest, but he would only have the one leg as described by early writers. Although it was still going to be difficult to achieve, especially fitting both body and head into the confined space dictated by the limits of such a narrow piece of wood. Could I do it? To be honest I wasn't sure, but take a look at the finished staff below and judge for yourselves. And if you want to know exactly how I made my own medieval sciapod to join me on many a modern Ragged Ramble, then come back soon for part two!

My sciapod staff ready for many a ramble (Click on images to make larger)

 +Many Coats+


  1. Is this staff for me? Cornelius Hump will be jealous!

  2. Looks a little like Finbarr Saunders and his unfeasibly large...

    1. Anonymous I thank you for your reference to Viz. I for one have long be arguing for greater access to Ragged Rambling and your reference to Northern humour clearly shows that we are making headway. I am In fact reet t'pleased me bonny lad!

  3. This is simply splendid Mr. Many Coats. You have a real talent, and it is fascinating to be led through the process of creating such a wonderful carving. Thank you for sharing!


  4. Thank you Munro. I think that the carvings found in many a church are fascinating and often fun, pointing to a vibrant, playful medieval society!

  5. I will hop in here with a foot note.
    I think he looks a shady character.