Brass of the Month

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Page last updated 09 October 2015

October 2015 -  Humbert de Chissé, 1458, Geneva, Switzerland


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The Geneva of John Calvin may not seem to be the most promising place to find medieval monuments. However a number of incised slabs remain in the cathedral of Saint Pierre, very much the church of Calvin's Reformation, while yet others were removed to the city's Musée d'Art et d'Histoire. Inside the cathedral, the slabs are placed upright on the north and south walls at the west end, their lower parts obscured by pews. All but one are in what must be a local stone – the Jura mountains and their quarries are close by – but it is the exception, placed close to the northern entrance at the west end that is the subject of this month's entry.

    The slab that commemorates Canon Humbert de Chissé, Doctor of Laws (both canon law and civil law) and papal prothonotary, who died on 6th August 1458. As a papal prothonotary, his slab has a hat above the effigy. Originally recorded in front of the altars of Saint Jacques and Saint Alexis, the slab was moved to the nave near the principal entrance in 1730 before being placed upright in against the wall in 1906.  Well over four hundred years on the floor, the last hundred and seventy-five in a very busy area of the cathedral have contributed greatly to the heavily worn state in which it is now found. Like most other effigial slabs remaining in the cathedral, there are breaks across the upper part of the slab.  The marginal inscription has been transcribed thus:

Hic jacot reverendus pater dominus | Humberttis de Chissiaco utriusque juris doctor sancte sedis  apostolice  protonotharius canonicus  ecclesie  | Gebennensis et hujus cappelle fundator  |  qui obiit die VI Augusti anno domini MCCCCLVIII, cujus anima in pace requiescat. Amen.

The chapel the inscription mentions he founded was that of St Jacques, to which he gave 50 sous of rent annually in 1446 and seemingly provided the glass in 1447. He was vicaire générale in 1451. His family, one of the most illustrious in Faucigny, had produced a number of other clerics important in Geneva, including an earlier namesake who was a canon in 1319.

Why the slab stands out from the others in the cathedral is not because of de Chissé's rank as papal prothonotary, as there is another slab still there representing one and others in the museum, but because it is Flemish. The stone is Belgian black marble and de Chissé's face, tonsure and hands were all inlaid in a lighter stone, that of the face and hands surviving in worn and damaged condition. It was not unique in the cathedral in being Flemish but the other examples are now in the museum. While they were exported all over northern Europe to find such slabs so distant from the Low Countries is remarkable. The presumption must be that the examples in Geneva were shipped through the Straits of Gibraltar to the south of France and then by river along the Rhône. Quite how far beyond Lyon they could have been carried by water in unclear.


Pierres Sculptées de la Vieille Genève, W Deonna (Geneva 1929)  in which the canon’s slab is No 448 and in which other slabs are also illustrated.

Copyright: Jon Bayliss (text and colour photgraphs)