Edited by Brian J. Levy and Paul Wackers
[Reinardus 10] 1997
► pp. 45–57
The Triple Head Motif on Medieval Choir Stalls
The triple head motif is a visual composition consisting of three heads on a single neck, with three noses, three mouths, but often only one pair of eyes. It appears on at least twenty-four medieval misericords, as well as in other contemporary artistic media throughout Europe. The motif is probably of Celtic origin although it existed also in ancient Greece and Rome. In this article I claim that the usual interpretation of this motif on choir stalls, the Trinity, is incorrect. Other possibilities are: the God Janus, the virtue of Prudence, intensity of emotion, the three ages of man, the three races of man, a symbol of power, a Bacchic Trinity and a Trinity of Hell. The image undoubtedly does not always bear the same meaning. In all cases, the tripling of the head seems to connote power, as it did with triple headed Celtic Gods. It is often a symbol of evil and a crowned tripled head may indicate the Antichrist. Other misericords in the ensemble of stalls and other attributes in the composition must be considered before arriving at a conclusive meaning for this motif.