1996-Dec seminar

10 December 1996

Elaine Kriegh: Tomb monuments

Elaine presented a short overview of the different styles of medieval tomb monuments (reproduced below), and then followed this with a set of slides she had taken that illustrated many of the different designs that she had discussed. Here is a copy of her handout, with a couple of [marginal notes] by john wilkes.

Medieval Monuments: Slabs, Effigies, Tombs and Brasses

Most medieval memorials fall into four categories: incised slabs, tomb chests, effigies, and memorial brasses. There is some overlap; for example, the effigy and tomb chest were often combined, as were the brass and tomb chest in some cases. Some things to consider when looking at memorials in a church or cathedral are the following:

  • Many of the floor memorials have been moved from their original sites.
  • Many of the memorials - even very recent ones - have been subject to damage from neglect, vandalism, or wear (foot traffic).
  • A "mythology" - about effigies in particular - has arisen, which cannot be verified.

Incised Slabs:

  • Have been used since the eighth century to the present day.
  • Were usually made from local material
  • Are most difficult to date (wear and tear)


Date from the 12th century [at around this time, the papacy was trying to get together with the Eastern church, which was known to favor memorials; it coincided with the church's willingness to allow burials in the church proper, rayther than in the chapter house]

Earliest ones are simple and two dimensional

13th,14th, and 15th century ones became highly decorated,three dimensional

Styles included:

  • "active repose" for knights [these did not have any special significance other than of being ready for the resurrection) - many of them came from the West country]
  • husband and wife or wives
  • ecclesiastics/clerics with appropriate regalia
  • "double deckers" (stylized above, rotting below)

Features to look for include:

  • pose of body
  • fashion/clothing styles
  • armor/heraldic devices
  • animals [often: lion for men, dogs for women - probably just family pets, rather than any deep symbolism]
  • symbols of authority

Royalty and higher nobility usually opted for effigies ($$$$)

Tomb Chests:

  • may or may not contain a corpse; sometimes were for show
  • earliest are plain or have little decoration.
  • later ones are very elaborate: niches, "weepers" [which began in early 14th century - initially simply stylized, later individuals], heraldry

Memorial Brasses:

  • Size is very important: full (life) size, half size, or"dinky"
  • Preferred by the less nobility, gentry, wealthy merchants, lesser clerics ($$)
  • Very stylized, often included the same features as effigies
  • Early brass workers were known as "marblers"

What were the major influences on medieval memorials?

  • Development of chivalry and strong class of knights
  • Development of heraldry
  • Concurrent developments in architecture, sculpture, other arts
  • The growing influence of the concept of Purgatory (probably St.Thomas Aquinas and the Papacy promoted this)

Recommended memorials:

  1. Clonmacnois, Ireland - incised slabs
  2. Salisbury Cathedral - effigies of William Longspee [1236], his son, ecclesiastics from Old Sarum, Sir John Cheney
  3. Worcester Cathedral - King John [1230]
  4. Temple Church, London - William Marshall and other crusader knights
  5. Gloucester Cathedral - Robert Curthose (Duke of Normandy) [Son of William the Conqueror]
  6. St. Mary's, Warwick - Beauchamp Chantry (Richard Beauchamp)
  7. Tewkesbury Abbey - "The Kneeling Knight," Wakeman Cenotaph, others
  8. Northleach and Chipping Campden churches - memorial brasses