We’ve all heard of the phrase “as poor as a church mouse.” Churches typically do not store food and it was thought that if a mouse took shelter in a church, it would be hungry and poor. The phrase shows up in literature as early as the 15th century!
An example of a church mouse can be seen in a recent accession: two original framed etchings of Westminster Abbey by A.H. Haig from 1885. In one of the images, a verger, or church official sits in the North Chancel aisle attentive to a small mouse. The mouse appears to be approaching the man, conceivably to beg for food. Could this be a literal example of the phrase, “as poor as a church mouse”?
The artist, A.H. Haig, gives no explanation of the mouse in a description of this plate (Armstrong 96). He does, however, mention the architecture and other aspects of the image. Haig was famous for his architectural drawings and etchings throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and was a member of the Royal Academy of Painters-Etchers and Engravers.
Only seven of his hundreds of etchings were of Westminster Abbey and we now care for two of these etchings in this accession. These etchings were framed in Denver, Colorado by Turner Art Gallery and were displayed in the Room of Remembrance by the Cache la Poudre Daughters of the American Revolution, as noted by a printed inscription below the framed images.
It is wonderful to see how amazing art from all over the world has been collected locally!
Armstrong, A.E. Axel Herman Haig and His Work. London : The Fine art society, ltd, 1905.