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The ‘Unexpected’ in Funerary Inscriptions on Medieval Slabs in France (1150-1350)



Online lecture

The ‘Unexpected’ in Funerary Inscriptions on Medieval Slabs in France (1150-1350)

Funerary inscriptions on medieval slabs and brasses show a great diversity of length, content, and disposition. Nonetheless, they often appear as recurring, non-original, standardized pieces of text. Generally engraved on the edges of the stone or metal slab, the epigraphic message engages readers in a perimetral and dynamic reading, making them move around the tomb to identify the main textual formulae of the epitaph: personal names, chronological information, prayers… These recurrent pieces of text that ensure the commemoration of the dead are written on a specific location of the tomb, regardless the length or the language of inscriptions. This pattern of composition can be seen as a way of “iconizing” the text and making it more accessible to a wide readership. Thanks to state-of-the-art editorial initiatives across Europe and a wonderful increase in the number of published inscriptions, this general understanding of funerary epigraphic documentation starts to change, and what appeared as a uniform genre is now perceived in its originality and unpredictability. This talk focuses on inscriptions from the 13th-14 centuries engraved on tomb monuments to address the notion of “unexpected” in epigraphic documentation to value the effects of such “original” epitaphs on the economy of commemoration and funerary strategies. This focus would lead to consider what “standard”, “normal” and “new” mean for funerary documentation, in an epigraphic culture that constantly creates, invents, and elaborates on several traditions and on the absence of specifications.


Vincent Debiais (Ph.D. 2004) is a medievalist and a faculty member at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. His research focuses on the interaction between written and visual cultures in the Western Middle Ages, and on the links between rhetorics, theology and images. He has published on medieval epigraphy, the representation of silence in medieval art, and he is has just completed a monograph on the medieval conception of abstraction and its translation in images and objects.


This lecture is part of our All Hallows 2023 autumn series of lectures. For details of the rest of the series, and our other events, go to .

Event Information

This online talk is FREE to all and will take place on Zoom. Places must be booked via Eventbrite at This is one of a series of online talks delivered by the Church Monuments Society for Autumn 2023.

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• Enjoy the talk!

Images: (left) Hildesheim, cathedral, crypt. Funerary inscription for bishop Adelog (+ 1190), copyright Deutsche Inschriften; (centre) Fontgombault, abbey church, nave. Funerary inscription for abbot Pierre de l’Étoile (+1114), copyright CESCM/CIFM; (right) Rouen, Saint-Ouen, abbey church. Funerary inscription for abbot Nicoals de Goderville (+1273), copyright CESCM/CIFM.