Monumental Brass Society

Incised slabs to lepers

Date of Brass:


August 2009

F.A. Greenhill, in his magisterial work Incised Effigial Slabs, notes the presence of a slab to a leper in the Musée Archéologique, Dijon, to one Jehan Martin, ‘dit le Scot’, who was a royal serjeant at Dijon and died from leprosy there in 1583 (Vol. I, p.229; Vol. II, pl.128b). Poignantly, the slab shows the afflicted Jehan without any ears and wearing a bell at his waist to warn people of his supposed contagion. With his usual sensitivity, Greenhill ends his short account with the comment that this slab is ‘perhaps the one surviving monument to show the lugubrious garb of those unhappy creatures’.
In fact, the Musée houses another seven slabs to lepers, in addition to Jehan Martin’s monument, all of which were once on the floor of the chapel of ‘La Maladière’ the leper hospital on the northern outskirts of the city. One eighteenth-century traveller commented that ‘The floor of the church, which was used for burials, has disappeared under the graveslabs, which cover it completely.’ (1) By this time however, the hospital had been converted into a farm and the steady ruination of the buildings left only a vestige of the apsidal end of the chapel remaining, together with some of the incised graveslabs. (2) In 1866 these were given by the Commission des hospices to the Commission des Antiquités du département du Côte-d’Or, who had a growing collection of antiquities, and which thereafter were absorbed into the Musée Archéologique in Dijon. (3)
One of the best preserved of the slabs is that to Regnault le Moigne ‘chausetier’, who is dressed in a long gown with a belt from which hangs a ‘cliquette’ (instead of the bell). A wide scroll encircles his head, inscribed ‘Miserere mei deus se(con)d(u)m misericordiam tuam’; and around the margin is an inscription ‘Cy gist Regnault le Moigne chausetier / qui fut randu ceans le xve Jo(u)r du mois de maỳ lan mil / cccc lxxvii et trespassa le xxv / Jour du mois de novanbre la(n) mil iiiic iiiixxii pries dieu pour luỳ amen’. [Here lies Regnault le Moigne, shoemaker, who came to this place (i.e. the leper hospital) the 15th day of the month of May 1477, and died the 25th day of the month of November 1482; pray to god for him, amen.] The slab is of the fine-grained yellow calcaire typical of the area around Dijon; its dimensions are 209 x 115cms (approximately) with the edges broken off in parts. The way the second year date is depicted is not unusual in France, being ‘mil’ one thousand, ‘iiiic’ four hundred, ‘iiiixxii’ four twenties and two, that is 1482.
A list of the other slabs to lepers also unrecorded by Greenhill is as follows:
1. Jehan Berthuot ‘natif de Dijon’, in civilian dress with a belt at the waist from which hangs the ‘cliquette’ denoting him as a leper, large scroll around his head, undated but late 15th century.
2. Cateline, wife of Jehan Seure ‘ticerant’, in a long gown and full headdress, with the ‘cliquette’ hanging from the belt; single canopy and large scroll, 1475.
3. … Belin, in a long gown with a purse and ‘cliquette’ hanging from his belt; single canopy and large scroll, 1475.
4. Claude Messaigier ‘coustelier’, in a knee-length gown with a belt, from which hangs the ‘cliquette’; a scroll encircles his head and by his legs are two knives, 1476. 5. Ancelet Mouillart ‘natif de Mo(n)tmirail en brye’, in a long gown with a belt and ‘cliquette’, a long scroll encircles his head, 1491.
6. B(al)tazard Thierry, ‘natif de Dijon … sergent royal’, in knee-length britches, belt and ‘cliquette’ and a short cloak, and his wife Maetie Sell(i)er, large heraldic cartouche above, 1584. (4)
Common to the fifteenth century slabs is the use of a precatory scroll, on which one typically reads the phrases ‘In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum’, and ‘O Mater Dei, memento mei…’. Also, on each slab is the date of admission of the individual to the hospital as well as the date of their death, with a gap typically of a few years between the two. These individuals had, therefore, a long period in which to meditate on their demise, with their sentiments for ultimate salvation touchingly expressed on their gravestones. (5)
(1) C. Courtépée and E. Beguillet, Description générale et particulière du duché de Bourgogne (4 vols, Dijon, 1847-48), II, p.114.
(2) Joseph Garnier, ‘Notice Historique sur la Maladière de Dijon’, Bulletin Monumental (1856), pp.5-43; see also his note in the Congrès Archéologique – Dijon (1852), pp.160-1.
(3) See Catalogue du Musée de la Commission des Antiquités du département du Côte-d’Or (Dijon, 1894), pp. 213-8.
(4) None of these slabs is currently displayed in the main premises of the Musée Archéologique in Dijon, but are held in their reserves in a separate building. I would like to express my grateful thanks to M. Christian VERNOU, Chef Conservateur of the Musée for allowing me access to the reserves, and his enthusiastic assistance in obtaining photographs of all of the slabs. The pictures here are reproduced with his kind permission.
(5) For a fuller account see Rodolphe Levert, La collection des pierres tombales du Musée Archéologique de Dijon (Université de Dijon – Maitrise, 2000), passim.

Copyright: Paul Cockerham

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