Brass of the Month

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Page last updated 04 March 2015

April 2013 – Canon Johannes (Jan) Craghe, 1524, Sint-Maartenskerk, Sint Maartensdijk (Zeeland, Netherlands)

Floor slab with indent of Canon Johannes (Jan) Craghe (d. 1524).

Photo: Chris Booms for the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE).

This month’s brass is an indent of a lost brass to a canon at Sint Maartensdijk, a small town in the Dutch coastal province of Zeeland. In a foundation charter of 23 June 1428 the local church of St Martin was made a collegiate church by the nobleman Frank van Borssele, fourth husband of Jacqueline, Countess of Holland (the repudiated wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester). The chapter was to consist of a dean and ten canons: it was abolished in 1577 at the Reformation.


An inscription along the edge of the surviving stone slab commemorates Canon Johannes (or Jan) Craghe, who died in 1524. Craghe’s stone slab measures 200 x 112 cm. The incised Latin inscription reads:


Hic jacet sepultus provi / dus ac discretus Johannes Craghe artium magister decretorum / bacularius canonicus et vice / decanus huius ecclesiae qui obiit anno Mo Vc XXIIII XIIII die mensis mertii.


(Here lies buried the discerning and wise Johannes Craghe, master of arts and bachelor of canon law, canon and vice-dean of this church, who died in the year 1524 on the 14th day of the month of March.)


The slab itself is largely intact, apart from some damage along the outer edge. A major loss is the large rectangular brass plate in the centre where only an indent now remains. Furthermore, the quatrefoils in the four corners of the slab originally featured the evangelist symbols, but these were largely hacked away, presumably when the brass was removed. This damage must have occurred during the French occupation (or ‘Batavian freedom’) of the Netherlands: in March and May 1798 two successive resolutions were issued that all heraldry should be removed from carriages, monuments, tomb slabs, etc. Evidently this order was sometimes interpreted more widely to include other decorations as well, including religious symbols. Several other slabs in the church still show indents of brasses that were probably removed at this time.


Fortunately a drawing of Craghe’s slab when still intact was produced by surveyor Korstiaen Bestebroer in 1783. It shows the figure of a canon under a Renaissance-style arch with a fringed cloth behind him. He is dressed in church vestments while a chalice and host is shown ‘floating’ above his crossed hands. Flanking him are two winged cherubs who each support a shield. The shield on the right shows a Jerusalem cross while the priest himself holds a palm branch in the crook of his right arm: indications that Craghe was a palmer, i.e. that he completed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.


According to Bestebroer’s drawing, the brass included a second inscription in Latin verse:


Hic ego qui longe digessi, tedia vite,

gaudior extincta est, organa tellus habet,

quod natura dedit solvi, sub lege tributum,

corpus abit terram et spiritus astra petit.


(Here am I, who long drew out a tedious life / I’m so glad it’s over! [Now] the earth has my organs. / What Nature gave I have paid back, as tribute under law. / My body lies in the earth and my spirit seeks the stars.)


Bestebroer also recorded two slightly earlier brasses to canons in Sint Maartensdijk as well as tomb monuments and slabs elsewhere in the region. His drawings are preserved in the Zelandia Illustrata collection, now in the Zeeuws Archief in Middelburg. Although the drawing is somewhat amateurish it still manages to show that Craghe’s brass was comparable in quality to the surviving brass to Dean Willem van Gaellen (d. 1539) in the church of Our Lady in Breda (North Brabant), thereby giving an impression of monumental splendour that was so sadly lost.

Drawing by Korstiaen Bestebroer of the floor slab of Canon Johannes Craghe, c.1783,

Zelandia Illustrata collection (ZI-II-2051), Zeeuws Archief Middelburg, courtesy of the Koninklijk Zeeuws Genootschap der Wetenschappen (KZGW).

COPYRIGHT:  Dr Sophie Oosterwijk FSA



This indent and other Dutch pre-Reformation monuments are described in the database of the Medieval Memoria Online (MeMO) project, which is available at http://memo.hum.uu.nl/database/index.html. The drawings by Korstiaen Bestebroer can be searched online at www.zeeuwsarchief.nl.

See also http://www.geschiedeniszeeland.nl/tab_themas/themas/middeleeuwse_grafzerken/ (in Dutch). The Latin verses were translated by Tim Sutton.