Beneath lie dust, decay, and gnawing worm:
Death’s lackey now he is, as life is his no more;
He nothing knows, nor has, nor are his virtues seen.
Look—meaner than the mire, the horror, the terror, stench,
Disgrace of all the world and common refuse he.
Here, brother, see thyself, and break a prayer for me.
—From the brass memorial of John Leventhorpe and his wife, Joan, 1484
Talk about an obituary—15th-century memorials clearly did not mince words. The horror, terror, and stench of John and Joan Leventhorpe’s deaths are thoughtfully preserved through Hamline’s brass rubbings collection. With approximately 1,100 rubbings from throughout England, it is undoubtedly the largest collection in the United States and one of the most notable in the world. The collection contains rubbings from as far back as the 14th century and includes those from such early British celebrities as Geoffrey Chaucer’s son, Thomas, and Anne Boleyn’s father.
Brass memorials were introduced in Europe in the 13th century and soon became a popular way to honor the dead. Less expensive than alabaster figures or stone slabs, brass was durable and easily engraved. Being flat, a brass plate could also be placed anywhere in the church—on the floor, wall, or on top of a tomb.
Hamline’s collection was the work of two student groups during the January terms of 1975 and 1976. Led by Hamline professors Walter Benjamin (religion), Clifford Cresswell (chemistry), and George Vane (English), the students traveled throughout England, rubbing the brass plates with a waxlike crayon onto high quality paper. Today the rubbings are stored in specially built cabinets in Bush Library to ensure the preservation of the collection.
To explore the entire collection, visit www.hamline.edu/brass-rubbings.
Article by Phoebe Larson