3. Diary of a church dog

Diary of a church dog 3.

I have been doing a little bit of research on dogs in church. I personally spend a

great deal of my time in the building of St Michaels. I found myself wondering if

there was any history of dogs attending church. I know that my good friend Meg

The Vicarage Dog (that sounds like a T.S Elliot poem!) often escorts the vicar and

has been known to attend the occasional service too, however I wondered if we

were the first and guess what? We weren’t! There was a dog breed (sadly now

extinct) known as the Turnspit dog. They were bred to be short-legged and long

in the body (a bit like me) in order to run on a wheel that would turn meat on a

spit. Bred first in Tudor times by 1750 there were Turnspits everywhere in the UK

but by 1850 they had become scarce and by 1900 had disappeared completely.

Now why would these wee doggies be in church well more interestingly they

were given the day off on a Sunday and were also used as feet warmers for

parishioners. Sadly, due to the advancement of mechanical spit tuners the dogs

became less popular and it became a stigma to have one as they were judged to

be a sign of poverty. A book by Dr John Caius, physician to the court of Queen

Elizabeth I, wrote in his book, De Canibus Britannicis in 1570,

“they are in kitchen service excellent when any meat is to be roasted, they go

into a wheel where they, turning about it with the weight of their body, so

diligently look to their business that not drudge nor scullion can do the feat more

cunningly”

I don’t mind being a foot warmer but not much mind for the hard labour!


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