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Gothic royal tombs of Northern Europe

Disruptive location

Gothic royal tombs, usually in the form of a chest and a three-dimensional effigy recumbent under a richly decorated canopy, evolved in the period between 1100 and 1300 from grave slabs which lay flush with the church floor. Elevated proudly above the ground, often asserting their superiority by disrupting or manipulating the flow of people around them, freestanding tombs with baldachins reached the peak of their prominence in the 14th century.

Sovereigns sought the most privileged spaces for their tombs - close by the high altars or shrines of the saints; those very special dead at whose graves the eternity of paradise entered the present. In consequence, churches with noteworthy pilgrimage shrines, such as Westminster Abbey, Prague or Cracow cathedral, often became royal mausoleums. On the other hand, the mere presence of a royal burial in a church served at least to reinforce its institutional prerogative and thus cathedrals and abbeys vied to assure at least one royal tomb. For example, the abbey of St-Denis revived its status as the traditional necropolis of the French sovereigns when St Louis laid out eighteen retrospective tombs of his ancestors in the choir ambulatory.

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