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Gothic royal tombs of Northern Europe

Symbols of power

Royal power is accompanied on the tomb by symbols of its office - Kings hold a sceptre and a sword, sometimes proudly displaying a model of a church or chapel attesting to their artistic patronage, an activity which was perceived as a concomitant feature of an ideal Christian ruler. Royal females were usually portrayed either with their hands in a gesture of prayer, or holding a prayer book. Kings frequently had their feet resting on a lion, which alluded, among other things, to the throne of Solomon, symbolising royal justice and sovereignty; stamping on a dragon illustrated the power of a Christian ruler over the forces of evil.

A tomb served also as the most effective agent of filial commemoration - a retinue of weepers, or pleurants, occupying the tomb-chest, did sometimes represent mourners but more frequently it was a procession of the members of the family accompanied by their coats of arms. And thus the familial interests and status were advertised while dynastic continuity assured. In some cases heraldic motifs replaced pleurants entirely, as on the tomb of Alfonso VIII and his wife Eleanor of England (both d.1214) in the choir of the mausoleum of the kings of Castile at Las Huelgas.

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