Two anonymous priests
- Date of Brass:
- Bruges, St Basil
Indents of two chalice brasses lie side by side on the north side of the St Basiliuskerk (St Basil's church) in Bruges. The building is two-storied, with the later Heilig Bloedbasiliek (Holy Blood basilica) occupying the upper floor. The two indents take the same form, so common in that area of Belgium, in having marginal inscriptions with quadrilobes at each corner, but differ in that one has these incised whereas the other formerly had these in brass, of which the indents remain. Both slabs are of Belgian black marble.
Nicholas Rogers thought that the one with the incised inscription beginning ‘Sepultura’ was made in the last quarter of the fifteenth-century because of the form of the lettering. This seems a reasonable assumption. The slab does not feature in Dr Valentin Vermeersch’s catalogue of Bruges monuments before 1578, suggesting that the rest of the inscription and particularly the name was illegible. Likewise the slab with the missing brass inscription cannot be identified with any recorded brass from the church.
Vermeersch does not list or illustrate any similar brasses from any other church in the city. The only one known from an antiquarian source that features a chalice on its own and not held by a priest was formerly in the church of Onze-Lieve-Vrouwkerk. It was a strange composition assembled in the seventeenth century from a brass of c.1482 and a slab of the early 1530s to which a brass chalice was added that had no apparent connection to either. The whole thing is discussed and illustrated in Vermeersch. The chalice had presumably been extracted from a slab that was probably similar to the two chalice brasses under discussion or from an incised slab with brass inlays of head, hands and feet accompanying the chalice. However, unlike them, this chalice was depicted with a wafer in it. A drawing made in the old church of St Walburga shows a lost brass with a chalice and wafer in an engraved surround inside a marginal inscription commemorating Jan Bollaert, died 31 January 1528. A most unusual thing about this brass was that there were skulls engraved in the corner quadrilobes.
The late Stuart Rigold illustrated the indents of the St Basil chalices although he mis-remembered the church where the slabs were. He noted that there are other Flemish chalice brasses recorded but unpublished, noting one at Hazebrouck near St Omer. Cameron did not list this but did list two in St Omer itself and another in St Nicholas, Tournai, all with surviving chalices.
Rigold thought the best English comparisons were with mid-fifteenth century chalice brasses made in York, although these are shown as if viewed from slightly above so that a portion of the interior of the bowls can be seen and the perspective means that the far lip appears to curve upwards. In contrast the Bruges indents are shown in profile with flat tops, as they are on early Flemish brasses with effigies of priests.
If the drawings published by Vermeersch, supported by the odd surviving examples on incised slabs, are a guide, the chalice in strict profile was very much the exception in Bruges. Yet there is another indent remaining in Bruges itself with a chalice, again in profile with a flat top, It is no longer in a church. A small bridge over one of Bruges’ many canals has its parapets capped by the two sides of a white stone (witsteen) indent, with a chalice set in one corner and its centre occupied instead by a wide circular band, presumably for the inscription. It is noteworthy that this inscription indent and the indent of the marginal inscription in St Basil’s both have deeper indents at intervals for joining bars, a practice that died out in England around 1350 but may have lasted longer in Belgium.
Copyright Jon Bayliss (text and photographs)
H K Cameron, A List of Monumental Brasses on the Continent of Europe, with Addendum (1977)
S E Rigold, ‘Indents of Chalice Brasses in Bruges’, TMBS, vol. X, part IV (1966), 283-4.
N J E Rogers, ‘Bruges Indents: A Correction’, TMBS, vol. XIII, part I (1980), 81.
V. Vermeersch, Grafmonumenten te Brugge voor 1578 (1976), vol. 2, 292-3, number 301, plate 135.
vol. 3, 554-5, number 499, plate 275.
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