Medieval Memoria Online

3.5 Functions

The functions of tomb monuments, floor slabs, and memorial pieces

Tomb monuments, floor slabs and memorial pieces all had a liturgical/religious function: they served to commemorate particular persons, and to request prayers for the salvation of their souls. This function could be interwoven with social, historical, political, and/or didactic functions. For more on this, see 1.2 Commemoration and identity. The functions of objects listed in the database always refer to functions as intended by the donors. Whether the faithful also understood the intentions of the donors, and for example responded to requests for prayers is another matter.

For the memorial pieces the indications of their functions are based on research, not just covering the objects, but also the commemorated persons and the commissioners of the object and their backgrounds and broader contexts.

For the tomb monuments and floor slabs we usually based ourselves on what is depicted on the object itself. In cases where we only had access to descriptions or low quality photographs, or where the object was badly damaged, eroded, or only partially intact, only the general function is provided: ‘liturgical/religious’, followed by the remark ‘no information on possible other functions’. For well-preserved objects, of which high quality photographs are available, the functions are given in more detail.

How the functions are deduced from the object itself, and differentiated in the database:

  • portraits and/or inscriptions that provide information about the commemorated persons: the social functions (for additional explanation, see further on);
  • inscriptions with a special message: referring to historical events, social or political statements, or didactic messages (usually a variation of memento mori);
  • decorations with didactic messages (figures representing Death, skeletons, skulls, hourglasses).

It should be noted that for example inscriptions can sometimes be incomplete, without this being apparent to the viewer today.


Social functions

For the social functions a distinction is made between objects commemorating just one person, and objects that commemorate a group of people. This is the case for memorial pieces as well as for tomb monuments and floor slabs. The different kinds of groups are listed in a drop-down list under ‘Commemorated party’ in the search form of Search Database. For family groups the following division is made:

  • Nuclear family
    • A family with children
    • One parent and one or more children
    • Multiple children from the same family
  • Extended family
    • All families and parts of families that include more than two generations, so grandparents, parents, children, or even more generations
    • Relatives who are part of the same nuclear family, such as an uncle and a cousin
    • A (part of a) nuclear family with one or more in-laws
    • A combination of nuclear families, because either the mother or the father was married multiple times

Note: in case only one person is portrayed or mentioned on a tomb monument or floor slab, and he or she is further distinguished as ‘husband of’ or ‘wife of’, or when the coats of arms of other relatives such as ancestors are displayed, the commemorated person will nevertheless be described as an individually commemorated person. In those cases the object will therefore not be described as an object with a social function. Researchers who wish to examine the displayed social relationships on the objects can still search for these objects by searching the database, specifically for the way in which inscriptions and coats of arms were used.