Archaeological Journal/Volume 7/Engraved Sepulchral Slabs



In a former volume of the Journal,[1] a brief notice was given of the incised memorials of stone with monumental portraitures, extensively employed during Mediæval times in this country, as also in France, Germany, and Italy. A few of the more interesting English examples were then enumerated; and, although the number of monumental effigies of this kind still preserved is inconsiderable, the perishable nature of the materials used in their construction having rendered them peculiarly liable to become defaced, yet a series of interesting specimens might easily be formed, ranging from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century. During the restoration of sacred structures, or the removal of unsightly pews, many memorials of this nature have from time to time been brought to light, and they appear at length to have attracted a share of the curious attention, for some years almost exclusively given to the more attractive engraved memorials of metal.

It is with the view of engaging antiquaries to bestow upon the sepulchral effigies of this class some greater measure of attention, and of encouraging the members of the Institute to communicate notices, or rubbings, where it may be practicable, of such examples as may fall under their observation, that the following notice of some interesting incised memorials in France and our own country is offered to our readers.

Monumental figures, engraved in simple outline upon large slabs of stone, appear to have been more extensively used in France than in this kingdom. The extraordinary number of memorials of this nature formerly existing in many parts of France may be ascertained from the curious collection of drawings of French monuments, taken with much care, about the year 1700, by direction of Mons. de Gaignières, and now preserved in the Bodleian Library, to which they were bequeathed by Gough. This series, the result only of a limited survey of some provinces, comprises upwards of eighteen hundred monuments, effigies, heraldic decorations, sepulchral brasses, and engraved slabs. The memorials of the latter class greatly predominate, and the drawings, hastily sketched, suffice to give a striking notion of the artistic skill and singular variety of enrichments which these sepulchral slabs displayed.

The attention of French antiquaries has in recent times been attracted to these engraved stones, and a few examples have been published, amongst which must be cited the "Dalle funéraire," at Chalons-sur-Marne, an exquisite specimen of this kind of art in the fourteenth century, bearing date 1313. It represents a mother with her two daughters. This noble slab has been given by Mons. Didron in his valuable "Annales Archéologiques," tom. iii., p. 283. He states that the entailles, or incised parts, had been filled up with composition of deep red, brown, and yellow colours. Some notion of the prevalence of such tombs may be derived from the statement, that in the church of Notre Dame, at Chalons, there exist 526 sepulchral slabs, of which 251 are in fine preservation. In the cathedral also, where the dalle above mentioned is to be seen, a very large number has been preserved. The cathedrals of Noyon and Laon, St. Urbain at Troyes, and some other churches, are literally paved with incised slabs, of which some are as ancient as the thirteenth century. Many other specimens of interest might be cited, such as the beautiful slab at the Palais des Beaux Arts, at Paris, admirably reproduced by Mr. Shaw, in his "Dresses and Decorations;" the memorials existing at Rouen, especially those of the architects of St. Ouen, one of which, hitherto unpublished, was lately shown at a meeting of the Institute, and many others. But slabs of as early a date as the period stated by Mons. Didron are of excessive rarity.

Amongst the collections of French monumental art, rescued from destruction by Alexandre Lenoir, amidst the fearful scenes of the Revolution in 1793, there were two incised slabs of the thirteenth century of considerable interest, of which accurate representations accompany this notice. They were removed from the abbey church of St. Denis, and deposited in the Musée des Monumens Français, at the suppressed monastery of the Petits Augustins, at Paris.[2] In the course of the "Restoration," commenced in the times of the Empire, and prosecuted after the return of the Bourbons, when Lenoir's Museum was dispersed, these interesting sepulchral portraitures were reconveyed to St. Denis, and ultimately placed in the "Chœur d'hiver," a chapel newly built on the south side of the nave.

No account has hitherto been given, by recent French writers, of the original position of these curious slabs, and no contemporary inscription is now to be seen to designate the persons whom they served to commemorate. Lenoir distinctly asserts that one of these effigies marked the burial place of Adam, Abbot of St. Denis, the favourite and counsellor of Louis VI., the predecessor of Suger, and better known as the severe oppressor of Abelard. He died Feb. 19, 1123.[3] The second is attributed to Abbot Pierre d'Auteuil, who died Feb. 6, 1227. Lenoir gives as authority for assigning the first to Adam, the inscription which he found on the verge of the tomb,—"On lit autour l'inscription suivante: HIC JACET ADAM ABBAS." The Baron de Guilhermy, in his recent monograph of the church and tombs of St. Denis, is disposed to reject discourteously the evidence of Lenoir, and the appropriation of these memorials. His hasty conclusion appears to rest on the omission of any notice of Adam and Pierre d'Auteuil in the detailed account of the tombs at St. Denis, preserved by Felibien, and on the absence of any inscription.[4] It is true that an earlier writer, the Père Doublet (in 1625), has likewise omitted to mention any such inscription, but the probability that it existed may seem affirmed by the fact that the tombs of both these abbots were distinctly known to that writer, as also to Dom Germain Millet, whose "Tresor Sacré" was published in 1638. Their original position, which M. de Guilhermy has neglected to ascertain, appears to have been near the tomb of Francis I., on the south side of the choir, and they were placed near together. The former writer, relating the decease of Pierre d'Auteuil, makes the following statement,—"Son tombeau est joignant celuy de l'Abbé Adam, près le Mausole du grand Roi Francois."[5] This is confirmed by Dom Millet, who says of the burial of the same abbot,—"Il fut ensepulturé auprés de l'Abbé Adam, centre le gros mur de l'Eglise, proche la


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Effigy attributed to Abbot Adam.

sepulture du Roi Francois I."[6] Although positive evidence may be wanting to prove that the tombs, now brought under the notice of this Institute, are identical with those thus distinguished in the seventeenth century as the memorials of the Abbots Adam and Peter, there appears no cause to question the statement of Lenoir, or regard the inscriptions (which he describes) as fictitious, according to the ungenerous insinuation of M. de Guilhermy.[7] One of these monumental portraitures, it must be observed, is undeniably not contemporary with the decease of the Abbot whom it is supposed to represent; and it may be questioned whether that attributed to Peter d'Auteuil may not have been executed some years subsequently to his times. Lenoir states that they both were placed by Abbot Mathieu de Vendosme, in 1259, in accordance with the directions of Blanche of Castillo, mother of St. Louis; and thus explains the occurrence of the castles, allusive to her paternal blazonry, found with the fleurs-de-lis of France in the decoration of the field, on these interesting slabs.[8] To the period of the rebuilding of the Abbey church, commenced by Abbot Eudes de Clement, in 1231, with liberal encouragement by St. Louis and the Queen Mother, and terminated, in 1281, by Mathieu de Vendosme, the Confessor of that Prince, and Regent of the realm during his absence on the second crusade, the date of these effigies may with confidence be assigned. To that Abbot, St. Louis had moreover assigned the charge of a new arrangement of the royal tombs, placing on one side the descendants of Charlemagne, and on the other those of the Capets, the paternal ancestors of St. Louis. The long series of commemorative statues, commencing with Clovis II., and still seen in the catacombs at St. Denis, were sculptured at this period.

In the course of the works attributed to Abbot Mathieu, we are informed that he caused the remains of the six abbots, his predecessors, including Suger, to be transferred, in 1259, and placed under two arches adjoining to the great door of the cloister.[9] Some persons have inclined to regard the two effigies under consideration as commemorative figures then placed where the remains of these dignitaries had been deposited. It will be observed that both these abbots are pourtrayed wearing the mitre and sandals, with the mass-vestment. The parura of the dalmatic, in one figure, that vestment being distinguished by the side-fringes, is enriched with fleurs-de-lis and marguerites, supposed to be allusive to Marguerite of Provence, and introduced in many decorations of her time. The privilege of the mitre, pontifical ring and sandals, had been conceded by Pope Alexander III. to the abbots of St. Denis, about the year 1177.[10] The Bull of Pope Gregory IX., in 1228, reciting this privilege, with the addition of the use of the chirothecæ, or pontifical gloves, grants the further concession of the tunic and dalmatic, with permission to give the solemn benediction.[11] This grant was obtained by Pierre d'Auteuil, who survived only six months to enjoy these much esteemed privileges. The propriety with which the gesture of these figures is varied thus appears,—that attributed to Adam represents him bearing a book, probably the textus, or evangeliary, in his right hand, whilst Pierre d'Auteuil appears with hand upraised in benediction, in accordance with the privilege conceded to him. It must, however, be noticed that the dalmatic, with its side-fringes and broad parura in front, appears on both figures. The extremities of the stole are seen beneath.

As the existing examples of incised memorials of the thirteenth century are very rare, it seems material to examine minutely all evidence serving to establish their precise date. This consideration must be an excuse for entering so fully into details which may appear tedious to some readers.

The figures are placed within trefoiled arches, resting on slender lateral shafts, the bases of which are now lost. Above, on either side, appears an angel issuing from clouds, swinging a censer with the right hand, and holding in the left the naveta, or ship for incense. It deserves remark, that the crook of the pastoral staff is in both instances turned inwards: this, as some French antiquaries affirm, is in


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Effigy attributed to Abbot Pierre d'Auteuil.

accordance with a conventional rule that, when carried by an Abbot, the crosier-head was turned thus, to designate their pastoral jurisdiction as limited within their particular establishment, whilst the head of the Bishop's cambuca is customarily turned outwards, denoting that his functions were extended over a wider range.[12]

This rule, if ever recognised in England, was certainly not invariably observed, as appears by comparison of the seals and effigies of bishops and abbots.

The lower portion of both slabs has been cut away. This appears to have been done subsequently to their removal from St. Denis; since, in the plate engraved after a drawing by Lenoir, a singular detail appears, under the figure of Pierre d'Auteuil, and it has been slightly sketched in the accompanying representation. Near the lower corners of the slab appear two birds, their heads turned towards each other; their necks appear bent, and they bear resemblance to ducks, but conjecture as to the kind of fowl intended would be vain, no portion of this part of the design now remaining. They are not introduced as supports to the feet, but apart from the figure. I am not aware that any similar example has been noticed on medieval monuments. The symbol of the two birds, occasionally peacocks, but usually resembling doves, is found upon sepulchral tablets of heathen times, and is of very frequent occurrence on early Christian memorials.[13]

The use of coloured mastic appeared in some parts of the work, as before mentioned in regard to the slab at Chalons. The colours were bright blue and red. The stone is of a soft quality, and from the state of the surface, it is probable that the slabs had been affixed to the walls of the church. Their dimensions are 4 ft. 8 in. by 2 ft. 4 in.

There are very few, if any, incised memorials in England, comparable either in point of antiquity or beauty of execution, with those existing on the Continent. A few specimens, apparently of foreign execution, have been noticed,—such as that in the Church of St. Gregory, at Sudbury, Suffolk, representing Seieve, wife of Robert de St. Quentin, doubtless a foreign merchant, as noticed in a former volume of the Journal.[14] Its date is circa 1320. Another, which has also been regarded as of French workmanship, is the singular engraved effigy in Brading Church, Isle of Wight, representing John Cherowin, or Curwen, Constable of Porchester Castle, who died in 1441.[15] It may assuredly be considered probable that French artists, whose superior skill in works of this nature is sufficiently evinced by existing specimens, might occasionally be invited to undertake the execution of such tombs in England. The curious fact is ascertained by contemporary record, that one of the executors of Walter de Merton, Bishop of Rochester, made a journey to Limoges, about the year 1276, to provide an enamelled tomb for that prelate, which was conveyed to England, accompanied by Magister Johannes, Limovicensis, the artist by whom it was executed.

One other fine memorial of this class in England, unquestionably by a foreign hand, exists at Boston. It has never been published, and was first brought into notice by the kindness of Mr. Goodacre, of that town, who communicated an impression for exhibition in the Museum formed at Lincoln, during the meeting of the Institute. It was discovered some years since, on the site of the Franciscan Friary, on the south-east side of Boston, now occupied by the Grammar- School.[16] This interesting work of art pourtrays a Westphalian merchant, citizen of Munster, who died in 1312. The inscription around the verge is, as follows:—✠ HIC . IACET . WISSELVS . D' CS . SMALENBVRGH . CIVIS . ET . MERCATOR . MONASTERIENSIS . QVI . OBIIT . FERIA . SEXTA . POST . NATIVI- TATEM . BEATE . MARIE . VIRGINIS . ANNO . DOMINI . M. CCC. XII . ANIMA . EIVS . REQVIESCAT . IN . PACE . AMEN. The costume and architectural accessories of this striking memorial are shown, with the greatest possible accuracy, in Mr. Utting's admirable woodcut here submitted to our readers. It will not escape notice that the merchant wears under his gown, which is open in front, as well as at the sides, a long coutel, the point of the weapon appearing below the skirt of his dress. In elegance of design and execution, as also in its

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Incised Monumental Slab, Boston Church, Lincolnshire.

remarkable state of preservation, this curious engraving surpasses all examples hitherto found in England, and its early date gives it more than ordinary interest. The statement of Leland, moreover, regarding the house of Franciscan friars at Boston, would lead us to suppose that "Wisselus, dictus Smalenburgh," may have been one of the founders of that institution. He says, "Mr. Paynel, a gentilman of Boston, told me that syns that Boston of old tyme at the great famose fair there kept was brent, that scant syns it ever cam to the old Glory and Riches that it had: yet sins hath it beene many fold richer then it is now. The Staple and the Stiliard Houses yet there remayne; but the Stiliard is litle or nothing at alle occupied. There were iiij Colleges of Freres. Marchauntes of the Stiliard cumming by all partes by Est were wont greatly to haunt Boston, and the Gray Freres toke them yn a maner for Founders of their House, and many Esterlings were buried there."[17]


  1. Archaeological Journal, vol. i., p. 210.
  2. See the catalogues of the museum formed by Lenoir, Nos. 518, 519; his more extended description of the collection, vol. i, p. 234, where representations of these slabs are given, on a diminutive scale, as also in his "Histoire des Arts en France," p. 237.
  3. Doublet, Hist. de St. Denys, p. 226. Felibien states that his death occurred in 1122; Lenoir gives 1121 as the date.
  4. Histoire de l'Abbaye do St. Denis, 1706, fol.
  5. Doublet, p. 259.
  6. Tresor Sacré, p. 533.
  7. Those who know and can appreciate the devotion in the preservation of works of art, shown by Lenoir, during the Days of Terror, and the difficulties which he encountered, will repudiate the illiberal innuendo of the author of the "Monographie," that the inscribed verge of these slabs had been cut away, leading to the conviction, that Lenoir had, "sous sa responsabilité personelle, décoré des noms de deux abbês illustres dans l'histoire du monastere de Saint-Denis, deux monuments appartenant à des personnages moins connus."—De Guilhermy, Monographie, p. 180.
  8. The castles, commemorative of the origin of the Queen-mother, were introduced in many decorations of the fabric, Felibien, p. 237. They occur on the decorative pavement-tiles, of which a small number were brought to light during the restorations of later years.
  9. Felibien, p. 191.
  10. Bull given, ibid. Piéces Justificatives, p. cxi.
  11. Ibid. p. cxix.
  12. L'Abbé Crosnier, Iconographie Chretienne, p. 322; Pugin's Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament, p. 191.
  13. A singular coincidence, in connexion with the use of this symbol in ancient times, is found in one of the cinerary urns, apparently of early Anglo-Saxon times, found near Newark, in 1836, and represented in Mr. Milner's interesting Memoir on "Cemetery Burial," p. 16. A pair of birds, rudely fashioned, like martlets, are found upon the operculum of this vase, which contained bones, bronze tweezers, iron scissors, and a fragment of a comb.
  14. Archaeological Journal, vol. v., p. 222.
  15. Engraved in the "Winchester Volume" of the British Archaeol. Association.
  16. Allen's History of Lincolnshire, vol. i., p. 255.
  17. Leland, Itin., vol. vi., fol. 59. Stow says it was founded by John le Pytehede.