Brass of the Month

March 2003: Fovant, Wiltshire

Fovant brass

This brass commemorates George Rede, who was rector of Fovant, Wiltshire  from 1473 to his resignation in 1504. The inscription reads, in translation 'Pray for the soul of George Rede, formerly Rector of the Church of Fovant at the time of the building of the new tower there, AD 1492, on whose soul God have mercy Amen'. This indicates that it was not laid down by his executors after his death, as was the norm at this time, but was commissioned by Rede himself, probably around the time that the building works to the tower were completed.

The brass which Rede chose for himself, though made in a mainstream London workshop, is a very unusual type for English brasses of its time. Most brasses were set in the floor in a huge slab covering the grave of the commemorated, but the Fovant brass was always intended as a mural composition. Just 15 ins. wide by 12.5 ins.high, the brass is set in a simple stone frame on the north wall of the chancel. Mural monuments, incised or in low relief, in brass and stone, were fairly commonplace in German and the Low Countries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but apparently not in England.  Perhaps Rede planned to be buried elsewhere, under a more conventional monument that has not survived, and commissioned this brass just to commemorate his building work and seek prayers for his soul. He may have judged, rightly as it happens, that with all the pressure for successive re-flooring of churches with new monuments, his own brass had a better chance of survival if placed on the wall.

Instead of the figure of the deceased forming the central feature of the brass, Rede is shown as part of a devotional scene, again a more common type in continental Europe than England. He kneels on the right of the brass, his figure being balanced on the left by a kneeling image of the Angel Gabriel. In the centre is the Blessed Virgin Mary, kneeling at a prayer desk. Gabriel has a prayer scroll reading 'Hail, though that art favoured, the Lord is with Thee', showing that the imagery represents the Annunciation. Between Gabriel and Mary is a pot of lilies, the three blooms representing Mary's purity before, during and after the Incarnation. Illuminated by rays of light issuing from a cloud, a dove, symbolising the Holy Ghost, descends towards Mary. Rede's prayer scroll reads ' O blessed mother of pity, pray to thy son for me'.

Images of the deceased praying to individual saints were not uncommon on medieval brasses and a wide range are shown. Since the church at Fovant is dedicated to St.George, it must be concluded that Rede had a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary. Medieval England was particularly known for its reverence for the Virgin and Marian image was widespread.

 One of the main aims of medieval monuments was to seek prayer to shorten the time that the soul of the deceased would suffer in Purgatory. The inscription on this brass seeks the prayers of pious visitors to the church and the scene asks the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede with Christ, again for the salvation of George Rede's soul. The brass is small in size, but carries a powerful message.

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Page last updated 15 August 2003