Monumental Brass Society

Thomas Tonge

Date of Brass:
York 2b


August 2005

August's brass of the month feature has, for the first time, a brass from Yorkshire. It lies in the chancel of Beeford church and commemorates Thomas Tonge, rector of that parish. He was instituted to the Rectory of Beeford in 1431, on presentation of the Prior and Hospital of St John. In November 1471 he made his will asking to be buried in the choir of Beeford church. He died on 24th September the following year.

While most of the brasses shown in earlier brass of the month features were made in London, this brass was made in York. Although the London marblers dominated the brass engraving trade in most of the country, York was sufficiently far removed from London to support its own brass engravers. Monumental brasses were made in the city from the late thirteenth century until at least the mid sixteenth century, but were most prolific in the mid to later fifteenth century.

The brass consists of a figure of a priest 38 ins long, shown wearing processional vestments -amice, alb and a fine brocade cope - and holding a clasped book, perhaps the gospels, as a symbol of his calling. The cope is very splendid and eye-catching and may copy an actual material or garment. The main feature of the repeating diaper pattern is the pomegranate, a symbol of the resurrection, which would be a highly appropriate form of decoration for a cope, particularly if worn at funerals. A York made brass of virtually identical design was once at Romaldkirke, North Yorkshire, though the pattern of the brocade was different. Pomegranates also appear in the brocade decoration of copes on two brasses in Hereford cathedral to Richard Rudhale, 1476, and Edmund Frowsetoure, d.1529, and also on one to John White, d.1548, at Winchester Collage, Hampshire.

The remainder of the composition, not shown in this picture, is a marginal inscription. It is now much mutilated but manuscript notes by Dade taken in 1662 and printed in Poulson's Holderness. It read ': 'Hic iacet nobilis vir magister Thomas Tonge, Rector istius eccl(es)ie, ex sinistra parte matris sue, qui obiit xxiiij die mensis Septembris littera dominicali D, anno d(omi)ni M CCCC lxxij, qui fuit in vita legum baccalaureus, almus, prudens, discretus, humilis, virtute repletus, clericos fovebat illos gratant(er) he(redita)bat paup(er)es pascebat honestos, et diligebat'. This may be translated as "Here lies the noble man, Master Thomas Tonge, Rector of this church, on the left side of his mother; he died on the 24th September, the dominical letter being D, A.D. 1472; during his life he was a bachelor of laws, gentle, prudent, discreet, humble, full of virtue; he fostered the clergy, and he made them his heirs them pleasingly, he fed the respectable poor and loved them."

This brass is one of only about 20 surviving or known examples which include in the date of death the dominical (or Sunday) letter for the year. The dominical letter has always applied to the historical year beginning 1 January, even when the civil and ecclesiastical year began on 25th March. If, for example the first Sunday falls on 2nd January, the letter is B; if on 7th January it is G. In successive years the letter recedes alphabetically, but for the year following a leap year a letter is missed. This gives a 28 year cycle of dominical letters. The inclusion of the dominical letter does not indicate that Tonge died on a Sunday (24 September 1472 was a Thursday), but its inclusion may have been to indicate that he was a man of learning and piety.

© Sally Badham

Photo: © Martin Stuchfield

Rubbing: © Patrick Farman


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