A Scarce Early Mummified Rat Under a Glass Dome From Furness Abbey, Lancashire


Origin: British
Period: Seventeenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1600-1700   
Height: 6 inches (the Dome)
Diameter: 5.5 inches (the Dome)
Length: 4 inches (the Rat)

The dried rat displayed in a later glass dome on ebonised oval plinth with annotated museum labeling to the underside; Found Embedded In The Original Masonry of Furness Abbey, Lancashire survives from the post medieval period.

Condition is good, given age and fragility, the whole remaining in sound stable order.  The rats features, limbs and physical attributes of the rat remain clearly defined and well preserved, the muscles have become quite desiccated. The domed cover is later and is in super condition, the base with some scuffing. The rat is essentially trapped in the dome so it can be moved into different viewing positions but it would be able to be removed if done carefully.

Furness Abbey was the second richest abbey in England. Founded in 1124 by Stephen, later king of England, the monastery was originally located at Tulketh, near Preston, but the monks moved to the 'vale of nightshade' on the Furness peninsula near Barrow in 1127. It was to become second only to Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire as the most important Cistercian monastery in the country. The Abbey was destroyed by the Scots in 1138, and recolonised in 1141, at which time it was substantially rebuilt. It became Cistercian in 1147 and prospered until the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, the Abbot surrendered the Abbey to Henry VIII rather than face trial for treason. Within a year lead was being stripped from the Abbey's roof and the buildings were dismantled even though the monks were still in residence.

The original buildings are likely to have been temporary ones of wood whilst the monastery was built and the earliest of stone is likely to have been the church, and the south wall of the nave dating to 1127-47. The ruins attracted attention for their picturesque nature in the 18th and 19th centuries and were frequently illustrated and tourism to the site increased with the opening of the Furness Railway Station in the 19th century. The ruins came into the guardianship of the state in 1923.

There are substantial building remains and earthwork remains. The building remains include ruins of the cruciform church, the East range of the cloister, and the infirmary and chapel to the South of the cloister. Excavations have revealed the total plan, most of which remains as foundations outlined on the ground and it is in these excavations that this rat was probably found. The extensive ruins are now in the care of English Heritage.

According to mediaeval superstition, old shoes, bottles, and less commonly cats, were placed into walls, roofs, floorboards or fireplaces to ward off evil spirits. It was quite a widespread practice across the European continent and in some cases the cats had been positioned, indicating that they were already dead at the time of concealment.  We believe this rat was an accidental part of that superstition rather than having been placed deliberately as rats were not thought to ward off spirits in the same way as cats. Dried mummified rats are more common than cats and more likely to be a result of natural occurrence, though because of the location of the find it is perhaps more unclear.

Nether-the-less, because of the fascinating location of this find it is intriguing and thus proves to be a wonderful and macabre curio.