Death & burial : funerary rites

The Norman lords' funerary monuments

The Norman conquerors’ concern to establish their dynastic legitimacy is seen in the choice made by Robert Guiscard in 1069, shortly after the conquest, of the site of the Benedictine abbey of the Holy Trinity at Venosa (Lucania) as his dynastic burial ground, having held the title of Duke of Apulia since 1059. The abbey was already linked to the family’s history, having been consecrated by Dreux of Hauteville in 1059, but it was Robert Guiscard who gave it this new status. Robert had the remains of his elders, William Bras de Fer and Dreux, transferred to the abbey church where he himself was buried in 1085, followed by his first wife, Aubrée of Buonalbergo († after 1111), although he had repudiated her.

Only Aubrée’s tomb survives intact. It appears as a sarcophagus surmounted with a triangular pediment borne on columns. The tombs of William and Dreux seem to have been less monumental, but they too departed from the tradition of humility more common in the Norman world, as expressed by the use of simple flagstones with a simple dedication engraved on them. Robert Guiscard seems to have been directly inspired by these new choices of the Eastern emperors.

The monument set up for Robert and Aubrée’s eldest son, Bohemund of Taranto, who was left out of the heritage and died in Bari in 1111, with the title of prince of a city he had lost, Antioch, was in competition with the "legitimate" dynastic sanctuary of Venosa. This monument, which may have been inspired by the tombs of the martyrs in the palaeo-Christian tradition, or the mausoleums of the Moslem princes, leans up against Canosa cathedral (Apulia) and may be seen as a funerary chapel combining Roman, Byzantine and Islamic architectural influences… It was to remain a quite unique piece of architecture.


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