A shroud brass

A Shroud Brass

Brampton church in Norfolk was one of those churches that was resolutely locked for years, and was impossible to get into.   The church has had a change of heart and now the building is open every day of visitors, and it was wonderful to finally get in this month – it is one of the only churches in this area that I have not been in.  The object I wanted to see here above all others was a remarkable shroud brass, a grave slab with monumental brasses – and it is in the chancel of the church, right next to the high altar.  It may well be in the same position it was in when first laid over the grave of the people commemorated.  For some reason, this important object has a table plonked on top of it, the custodians really should do something about that.   

Shroud Brass Brampton

A shroud brass with the deceased prepared for the grave

The brass commemorates a man called Robert Brampton who died in 1468, he was the Lord of the Manor of Brampton and took his name from the place.  He is commemorated alongside his wife Isabella.  The inscription on the monument tells is that Robert lies  “under this marble” and the grave slab is made of Purbeck marble from the south coast.  The brasses inset into the marble stone portray Robert and his wife in the condition they were probably in when they were laid beneath the stone.  They are both naked and are dressed in nothing but their winding sheets, their burial shrouds – most people in late medieval Europe were placed in their graves in such simple grave clothes, coffins were for the social elite.   Robert gazes upwards and has his hands spread open, this is a pose that represents adoration – and Robert is caught in raptures at a vision he has seen above him.   


Shroud Brass Brampton

Mary the Magnificent Mother

And at the top of the brass is a tiny image of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, this is an image known as ‘Maria Lactans’ for Mary suckles her son at her breast.  While in raptures at this vision, Robert addresses Mary and through a prayer scroll that rises from him (like a cartoon speech bubble) Robert asks Mary for aid: – “Mater magnifica, miseris miserere Maria.” – “Magnificent Mother, have mercy on me Mary in my misery.” 


Robert’s wife, Isabella, stands in meditation, her hands together in the attitude of prayer and she too prays to Mary, her scroll with a little Latin couplet reading: “Virgo Deo Digna, precantibus esto benigna” – “Virgin, worthy of God, look benignly on those who pray.” 

Brampton church Norfolk

How did this shroud brass survive?

All of this expresses a conventional late medieval piety, in which the Virgin Mary plays an important part as a mediatrix in the economy of salvation.  Given that Isabella’s date of death is not recorded, it is likely that she was responsible for commissioning the brass once her husband had died.  This sort of late medieval pious expression is just the sort of thing to incite the wrath of the Protestant reformers in the sixteenth century, and it is an extraordinary miracle that the brass with its image of the Virgin Mary has survived unscathed from the hands of Protestant iconoclasts.  

Brampton church Norfolk

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