Importance of Epigraphy to Cultural History Cover Image

Význam epigrafie pre kultúrne dejiny
Importance of Epigraphy to Cultural History

Author(s): Miroslav Čovan
Subject(s): History, Cultural history, Middle Ages
Published by: VERBUM - vydavateľstvo Katolíckej univerzity v Ružomberku
Keywords: epigraphy; Middle Ages; early modern era; sepulchral monuments; graffiti; Upper Hungary;

Summary/Abstract: The study of epigraphic sources has crucial importance for cultural history. The analysis and subsequent comparison of inscriptions from a formal and content point of view can contribute to the findings enriching the knowledge of the cultural development of our society. Several factors have to be taken into account in such research. In the first place, the inscription appears on a certain bearer (tombstone, bell, chalice, portal…). This can be key to the form and content of the inscription. Traditional conservative bearers such as bells and baptismal fonts in the middle ages contained texts that have not changed for a long time, either in content, linguistic or paleographic terms. Possible change indicates a new phase of cultural development for the region. Especially in the early modern age, sepulchral monuments are very important epigraphic source. In our territory, it is primarily about gravestones, epitaphs and tombs. The variety and amount of sepulchral inscriptions, their subsequent analysis and comparison, may be a support for cultural historians. In the first half of the 17th century, for example, the Old Testament text of the book Job dominated in sepulchral monuments of both, burghers and nobility. Another cultural phenomenon that has survived until today are graffiti inscriptions. It is clear that this was by no means just the matter of ordinary people. The most recent research confirms that the engraved or inscribed name as a memorial left also very important personalities such as the mayor of royal town, educated pastor or future Hungarian prime minister. In recent years epigraphy has been presenting more and more frequently in Slovakia as a historical discipline which, by its findings, enriches our knowledge of history in the broadest sense. If we had to point out in what lies the greatest benefit of epigraphy, it is without a doubt an incredibly multidisciplinary overlap, which reflects on the interconnection of basic research of inscription material with other scientific disciplines. The epigraphy is closely linked with art history, church history, archeology and protection of monuments. With these analyzes, it strongly supports the findings of medieval studies, neolatinism, history of literature, genealogy, heraldry, and campanology. Especially for the Middle Ages, content simplicity of the inscriptions is typical in the sacral space. Typically, such inscriptions occur on traditional artifacts – bearers. For example, on our medieval bells, we find very often the inscription O Rex glorie veni cum pace (O King of Glory, Come with Peace) or the New Testament text Verbum Domini manet in aeternum (The Word of the Lord remains forever). In the sacral space, especially wall painting has the most powerfull influence on medieval human. However, during the Reformation, an important qualitative change takes place in favor of the text, which very often replaces the painting. In the middle of 17th century, this tendency culminates. Numerous inscriptions are found on various profane buildings or their components. These are primarily castles, manor houses, houses of burghers and city halls. The urban element is significantly represented by its self-government. In the 16th century it is characterized by representative reconstruction of city halls. In these areas, inscriptions highlighting the ideal of good governance have an important often key role. The source of such texts are often classical authors or humanistic scholars who inspired by ancient works. It is a trend that is not only visible in our cities, but also in Poland. Due to the close commercial and cultural interconnections of our cities, especially with Silesia, this is an important finding. Many burghers, for example, who settled in Bardejov during the 16th century, came from polish Silesia. In 1615, the town hall in Levoča underwent extensive reconstruction, and it also included the creation of inscriptions of content very closely related to Bardejov. Destroyed inscription was on the southern wall of the town hall and celebrates peace as the basis for the free development of the town: “PACE REFLORESCUNT OPPIDA, MARTE CADUNT ANNO 1615.” On the west side, an inscription was created in the same year, which emphasizes the importance of the responsible government over the city: “PULCHRITUDO CIVITATIS CONCORDIA 1615.” Sepulchral monuments, a type of epigraphic inscriptions, clearly dominates our inscription culture since the second half of the 16th century. The term “sepulchral monument” means all artifacts (also without inscriptions) that are related to funeral culture. In our territory, it is primarily about gravestones, epitaphs and tombs. These are extraordinary valuable historical sources that help us reconstruct the history of given families and supplement the prosopographic data to the lives of important individuals. Due to their traditional heraldicepigraphic dimension, they are often key to recognizing the symbology of noblemen, burghers, or representatives of the spiritual state. From the content point of view, the sepulchral inscriptions are also beneficial to the research of the history of literature, as they often contain literary works. After analyzing and comparing a large number of sepulchral inscriptions, it is possible to follow trends that have been characteristic for a particular time or group of inhabitants. Although such research is still only in its beginnings, it is already clear that, for example, with regard to biblical texts, some were particularly popular among burghers and nobility. In the first half of the 17th century, it appears to be the most popular passage in the book JOB 19:25 and following. From the sepulchral monuments tumba had the most representative shape. It is an artifact similar to a sarcophagus. The peak phase of their use dates back to the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century and until now only a few have been preserved in their complete form. Especially these artifacts are typical in using of a large text with a poetic character. Graffiti inscriptions are another cultural phenomenon that has survived until today. The research of inscriptions of non-monumental, spontaneous character has its significance, although the findings appear questionable or uncertain. The amount of unclear initials, names or dates often have just little value, especially if they are unreadable or deliberately destroyed. It happened that, as a result of constant political and religious changes, the opponents intentionally destroyed such inscriptions especially in the 17th century. That’s what we can find in one of our most important spaces for graffiti inscriptions, located in the exterior of the Zapolya family chapel of Cathedral of St. Martin in Spišská Kapitula. Graffiti are very often also on Gothic altars. This kind of spontaneously emerging epigraphic monuments is not only recorded in the sacral space but also in the profane buildings. The most recent research confirms that the engraved or inscribed name as a memorial left also very important personalities such as the mayor of royal town, educated pastor or future Hungarian prime minister.

  • Issue Year: 9/2018
  • Issue No: Supplem
  • Page Range: 5-29
  • Page Count: 25
  • Language: Slovak