|97: The Three Hares, or Tinners' Rabbits
c.1300 in Great Britain
Original stone finish (97)
Jack o' The Green finish (97GR)
Red Antique finish (97R)
This example of the Three Hares carving should perhaps be better called the Three Bunnies, so delightfully cuddly are the carved hares! They are prancing around in their own little patch of clover and the leaves and stylised flowers can be seen between the hares. The carving has a delightfully compact and unified quality with no loose ends or inappropriate details and the finished piece is equally at home adorning a desktop or mantle, or hanging up on a wall.
This ancient and enigmatic symbol depicts three hares prancing round each other. The essential and defining feature of the Three Hares image being that each hare shares its ears with its neighbours, joining them together and forming a central trefoil. There are only ever three ears. But they are quite mysterious; the hares' origin and meaning remain obscure.
Whilst we are unable to explain the Three Hares, it is significant that they frequently appear near to, or in association with, the equally mysterious Green Man, often in the form of carved roof bosses. It is therefore highly likely that their origin is similarly entwined with pagan beliefs about fertility and regeneration. Their presence in Christian churches (like the Green Man) has also prompted speculation about symbolism of the Holy Trinity.
Curiously, their greatest proliferation is in Devon and on Dartmoor where about thirty different examples may be found. This gained them the title "Tinner's Hares" or "Tinner's Rabbits" when it was thought an association with the local tin mining industry existed.
However, the image of the Three Hares extends far wider, with British examples to be found in Chester Cathedral, St Davids Cathedral in Wales and as far north as Yorkshire. In Europe the Three Hares have been found in France and Germany. Probably the earliest example discovered so far appears as a cave painting in China, dating from about AD 600, whilst other ancient images of the Three Hares have been identified in Nepal, Iran and Afghanistan. The earliest known example in the UK dates back to about 1300.
With special thanks to Dr Tom Greeves whose research into the Three Hares provided the above information.
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