This funerary effigy represents one of the abbots of Cerne Abbey in Dorset, in southern England. His identity is unknown. Portrayed with tonsured (shaved) head and tightly curled beard, the abbot clasps a book in his left hand and traces of his crozier (staff) may be seen in his right hand---symbols of his office and pastoral authority. The figure is carved from "Purbeck marble," a limestone unique to the Purbeck Hills of Dorset.
Very little remains of Cerne Abbey today, but it is known to have existed as early as the 9th century. The abbey was dissolved in 1539 by King Henry VIII during the English Reformation, at which time its buildings were razed to the ground. This is the only work of art that survives from the abbey and, though buffeted by time and history, retains much of its fine sculptural character. The sculpture has the additional distinction of being the only monument of its type in an American museum.