The Roof Bosses of Atherington

The Roof Bosses of Atherington

Roof Boss

Imp Roof Boss
One of St Mary's interesting features is the large number of late medieval oak roof bosses that adorn the wagon roofs in the nave, chancel and north aisle. The carvings depict fruit, foliage, birds and men, as well as mythological creatures, including the above demon.

The foliate head or "green man" is a common roof boss motif in Devon churches. The green man is undoubtably of pagan origin and is commonly thought to represent fertility. Another interpretation, more in line with Christian teaching, is that the green man is a symbol of rebirth or resurrection.
This roof boss features a dragon suckling its young. The boss may be a reference to a verse from the Book of Lamentations: "Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones."
Titivillus was the demon responsible for recording the idle chatter of the laity in church, to be later used as evidence for damnation. In the fifteenth-century sermon cycle Jacob's Well, a holy man, who witnesses this, asks the demon what he is doing, to which Tutivillus replies:
I write these tales of the people in this church, to record them before God at the doom for their damnation, and my book is too narrow to write all their tales; they say so many. Therefore I draw it out broader that none of their tales should be unwritten.
Titivillus is also the patron demon of scribes and is said to have entered the scriptoria of monasteries and caused errors in manuscripts as they were copied.

Roof bosses of a human male head are common in Devon, however, their significance is often unclear. The first boss appears to show a bearded face surrounded by a shroud, perhaps signifying death.
While the star and cresent moon was the heraldic badge of the Denzell family, prominent late medieval landowners in North Devon, this boss may simply be a reference to the heavens.

The pelican represents Christ.

In the late medieval period, the dragon was synonymous with the devil. This connection is explicitly made in the Book of Revalations:
And the great dragon was cast out , that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
The bishop's head and mitres in the chancel of St Mary's is thought to represent the authority of the Church.