Monumental Brasses


Copper-alloy inscriptions were often set into recesses in stone monuments such as gravestones in the form of sheet plates engraved with inscriptions, or as border inscriptions formed of singly cast letters.  Those found were probably removed during the upheavals caused by the Reformation of the early 16th century (Egan 2005, 213).  Letters are earlier, commonly rendered as Lombardic capitals made mostly in the first half of the 14th century.  Though there is no reason why any letter of the alphabet might be found, on the PAS database there have been many letters Es recorded, with rather fewer of the following: Rs, As, Ss, Ms, and a possible V.  At the Dominican Priory in Oxford, Ls, Is, Ts and Ds were found.

In addition, other elements of monumental brasses such as effigies, canopies and shields might be found.

PAS object type(s) to be used


PAS object classification to be used

Use ‘monumental’ in the Classification field

Medieval (and early post-medieval) monumental brasses

Terms to use in the description

Occasionally brasses, cut from sheet plate, will have been engraved on both sides.  Such recycled brasses are known as ‘palimpsests‘.  Single letters tend to conform to a dominant style, known as the ‘Main Group’ after the work of John Blair, and be of one of three main sizes (for illustrations see Bailey 2001, 12-13).  The letters were open cast and may have evidence for casting or file marks on their reverses.


Single letters tend to date from the late 13th century to around the mid 14th century, around the time of the Black Death, as is consistent with their Lombardic forms (Blair in Lambrick and Woods 1976, 221).  The black-letter script on inscriptions filling either strips or plates succeeds this, dating from the mid 14th century onwards, but centred on the 15th century and going slightly later.


Letter A from medieval monument (NMS-4CC246)
Letter A from medieval monument (NMS-4CC246) Copyright: Norfolk County Council Scheme; CC-BY licence)
Plate from a medieval monument with black-letter engraved inscription (NMS-FDB4BF)
Plate from a medieval monument with black-letter engraved inscription (NMS-FDB4BF) Copyright: Norfolk County Council Scheme; CC-BY licence)

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Key references

Egan 2005