Brass of the Month

October 2010 – Dirick Lode, 1507, St John’s Church, Cesis, Latvia

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Page last updated 04 March 2015

Copyright: Jerome Bertram

Most of what is now called Latvia and Estonia was, in the late Middle Ages, the territory of Livonia.  It was ruled by the Livonian Knights, who were, at least in theory, a province of the Teutonic Knights, although the Livonian Masters seem to have paid little attention to the Grand Master in Marienburg, still less to the Emperor and the Pope.   It has to be said that the Knights have left rather a bad reputation behind them, not only in Livonia, but also in their southern domain of Prussia (now partitioned between Poland and Russia).   But they did build some splendid castles, some of which are still spectacular – Marienwerder, Ragnit, Fellin, and particularly the two capitals of Marienburg and Wenden.   The latter dominates the small town now called Cesis.  In the church of St John is a very large collection of incised slabs, including nine effigial slabs.  The only serious war casualty was the most important, that to Walter von Plettenberg, Livonian Master, 1535, now reduced to three fragments in the south aisle.  Three others commemorate Masters, but the best preserved of all is to an ordinary Knight, Dirick Lode, on the west wall of the south aisle.    He is shown in armour facing to dexter, in the sword-handling posture usually associated with two centuries earlier, within a marginal inscription in Gothic minuscule.  There was probably an achievement of arms at his feet (but the lower part of slab is eroded).  Like most of the slabs in central Latvia, it is in a dark blue limestone.

Photograph by Jerome Bertram, 30 August 2010.

    The inscription is very difficult to read, especially as the bottom line is concealed behind display boards, but it seems to be:

        Jnt iar M CCCCC / vii p viii vor alle selige dir[ick] -- / orme por mou / ittis men it—n siner seile // ihs maria ioes.

Of this the date, 1507, is clear, and something eight (days?) before All Saints; and the words seiner seile, “his soul” are the end of the customary prayer.  The second line at the top is Ih(esu)s, Maria, Io(hann)es, Jesus, Mary and John.

    Incised slabs are exceedingly difficult to photograph, and none of the other slabs produced results fit to reproduce.   Nothing seems to have been published on these slabs, although F.A. Greenhill obviously had access to some pre-1939 source, since he lists several of the slabs.  For a proper record someone needs to stay in Cesis for a week, with first-class lighting equipment, or make a set of dabbings which can be traced.