from Pantperthog to Knockando

Sunday, January 12, 2020

My collection of collections, part 1: Souvenir monks

I was giving my mate Tom a lift home the other week and commented that I'm a bit of a collector, and he asked what I collected. And the answer is, just about anything. I've dabbled in stamps, baseball cards, filled football sticker albums, filled at least four shelves with Boba Fett action figures, have boxes of Action Force sitting around, collected the back catalogues of various bands, and the complete output of certain authors, and have literally thousands of Lego bricks in my house (although Cathy has equal claim to them!).

On reflection, I'm a collector of collections. I've known this for a while. I wrote about it a few years ago when I was looking at the psychology of collecting for my MSc dissertation.

This year I thought I might write a few blog posts about some of the more random things I collect or have collected. And I'll start with a small, fun gathering of souvenir monks, nuns and choristers that currently sit on one of my bookshelves.


I have nine of these little clay figurines. I don't know who produced them but they were for sale in gift shops attached to cathedrals and other Christian buildings.

I bought my first one in Wymondham Abbey in Norfolk in 1996, when we went on a family holiday there. (Wymondham Abbey is an interesting building. Half it was a monastery that was abandoned when Henry VIII abolished them all, but the other half was the parish church, so that bit of the building survived in use while the other half fell down. William Cowper, the eighteenth century poet and hymn-writer was part of the congregation there for the last few years of his life.)

Of the others, I'm pretty sure I bought the tall monk in the centre from Prinknash Abbey near Gloucester, either the monk or the nun from Bath Abbey, the chorister from Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, when I visited Liverpool for the first time in 1998, and maybe the monks from Bristol and Hereford Cathedrals.

I've also acquired some from other people. My friend Terri had a few and when she moved to Japan she gave them to me - I think that's where the ones from Christchurch Priory came from, because I've never been there. I haven't been to St Mary's church in Nantwich either. I know my parents went to Nantwich to visit the salt museum there. If they popped into the church for a nosey (and it's apparently well worth a look) then my mum may have bought me a monk.

I have not seen these figures on sale anywhere for ages. In the last couple of years I've been in gift shops in cathedrals in St David's in Pembrokeshire, Ely in Cambridgeshire, and St. Albans, and not seen any for sale among the other souvenirs. I always have a look for them.

From memory I think there may also have been choristers with red robes under their white cassocks. The ones I have both have blue robes, and I would like to try and get a red one for completeness sake. I also don't know if the nuns only came in black habits. The monks came in brown, black and white habits, which it would make sense to match to the monastery, except Prinknash Abbey is a Benedictine house and Benedictines wear black habits. White habits are worn by Cistercian monks. Maybe my souvenir was just visiting from another order, until he came home with me.

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