|France - "The exceptional
grave of Louise de Quengo, a 17th century Lady" (INRAP, 3 June 2015)
2011 to 2013, an Inrap team realized a rescue excavation, curated by
the State (Drac Brittany), at the Jacobin Convent, the future site of
the Rennes Métropole conference center. Two years later, the
ongoing studies have yielded new discoveries.
The Jacobin Convent, constructed in 1369 after the War of Succession,
marked the victory of Jean IV of Montfort, the Duke of Brittany, over
Charles de Blois. From the 15th to 17th
centuries, this Dominican establishment became an important place for
pilgrimages and inhumations. Approximately 800 graves were uncovered by
the archaeologists, including five lead coffins. One of these contained
a remarkably well-preserved corpse. Its study provides rare evidence
for the funerary practices of elites during the 17th
Lead coffins and hearts
The five lead coffins, dated to the 17th century, were accompanied by
reliquaries in shape of hearts.
Four of the coffins, uncovered in the church choir, yielded relatively
well-preserved skeletons, some with a sawed skull and rib cage, an
embalming practice reserved for elites.
The five lead reliquaries accompanying the coffins in the Jacobin
Convent constitute a unique group of artifacts in Europe. They contain
a heart and four of them have inscriptions revealing the identity of
the deceased. Some of the hearts were enveloped in tissue and embalmed
with vegetal materials. An analysis of the textiles, the vegetal
species and some organs contributes information on the embalming
de Quengo, Lady of Brefeillac († 1656)
At the base of a wall of the Saint-Joseph Chapel, the fifth coffin
contained an exceptionally well-preserved corpse. The nearly intact
body is that of Louise de Quengo, Lady of Brefeillac. This
identification could be made thanks to inscriptions on the lead
reliquary of the heart of her husband, Toussaint de Perrien, Knight of
Brefeillac (deceased in 1649).
In order to limit as much as possible any loss of information from the
decomposition of the body, a study was realized in collaboration with
the Molecular Anthropology and Synthetic Imaging Laboratory
(CNRS/Université de Toulouse), and the medical-legal service
of the CHU of Toulouse.
autopsy: scientific and heritage contribution
After scanning the entire corpse, the autopsy revealed the health
condition of Louise de Quengo. This was a rare opportunity in
archaeology to collect human tissues with no environmental
contamination. Complementary microbiologic and genetic analyses enable
the scientists to determine if the cause of death was infectious. The
DNA of pathogens, including that of tuberculosis, enable the
observation of the micro-organisms of the 17th century to the present,
a rapidly developing research topic.
These studies also contribute precious information on the funerary
practices of the time, as well as the history of sciences and medicine.
The removal of the heart of the deceased thus revealed a great mastery
of surgical practices. It was probably inhumed in an as yet unknown
location, probably with her husband to accompany him to heaven.
The inhumation of body parts in different locations began in the Middle
Ages, as is seen in the funerals of Bertrand Du Guesclin and Anne of
Brittany. However, the nature and evolution of these practices during
the Modern period were until now poorly known.
complete costume from the 17th century
Louise de Quengo was dressed in a religious vestment: cape,chasuble, a
brown frieze frock in a crude serge wool, a plain fabric shirt, leg
warmers or chausses in serge wool and leather mules (shoes) with cork
soles. A devotional scapular was wrapped around her right arm and her
hands were joined and holding a crucifix. Her face was covered with a
shroud and two bonnets and a hood, held by a bandeau, covered her head.
It was common for secular elites who were authorized to do so to wear a
religious vestment for important ceremonies. But it is also possible
that Louise adopted a monastic lifestyle after she became a widow. The
exceptional preservation of this outfit led the Museum of Brittany to
ensure the restoration of the clothing (Materia Viva laboratory in
Toulouse) and the shoes (2CRC laboratory in Grenoble) in preparation
for their presentation to the public. Following the
scientific studies, measures will be taken to rebury the deceased and
to preserve the textiles.
A presentation during the
National Days of Archaeology
During the Village of Archaeology event
at Champs Libres in Rennes, on June 20 and 21, the Inrap
archaeo-anthropologist Rozenn Coleter will give a presentation of the
discovery of the Louise de Quengo grave.