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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

St. Joan of Arc Chapel tombstone etchings investigated

Photo by Maryam Tunio
A Marquette Latin class attempts to decipher mysterious writing on a tomb in the Joan of Arc Chapel.

On the floor of the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, the faint outline of a tomb is often trod over by visitors.

John Chojnacki, a tour guide at the chapel, said the tomb is empty, but belongs to Michelle Sautereau and dates back to the 16th century. While the origin of the tomb has already been investigated, the mysterious writing that runs along the outside of the tomb has up until now remained relatively unexplored.

Stephen Beall, an associate professor of foreign languages and literature, brought his advanced Latin class to the tomb to have a look at the etchings last week. The group brought flashlights and went to work, writing down what they could and trying to make sense of the faded writings.

Shading over the engravings on the tomb, the Latin class attempted to collect samples of the writing for further analysis. Although this is not the first time the writings have been analyzed, it is the first time the engravings have been translated – albeit, only partially. From what was deciphered, the writings reveal details about the man who passed away, when he was born and when he died.

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Taylor Wyman, a continuing education student specializing in the Latin language who is a student in the class, said in an email that the writings were difficult to read, even after looking at photographs and rubbings.

“I discovered how difficult it can be to decipher and translate an inscription that has seen so much wear,” Wyman said. “Not to mention (it) is in Gothic script.”

Beall later discovered that the writings are actually in French. Although the writings were thought to be in Dauphinois, a southern dialect from the time period, Beall said the inscription may actually be in a different idiom.

“I expected that the inscription would be in Latin, not French,” Beall said in an email. “I am also surprised that (Marquette) has so little information about the tomb.”

The Department of Special Collections and University Archives has only brief records of the writing, but it has never been studied in detail. According to a previous article by the Wire, someone from the language department once came to do a sketch of the tomb but never returned with information.

“We don’t have any good photos or details of the inscription,” said Susan Stawicki-Vrobel, an archival technical assistant in the department, in an email.

Although there is no definite reason as to why the writings have never been studied, Michelle Sweetser, a university archivist, said that there is probably a lack of interest or the words on the tomb are simply too faded to read.

“Our photography of the tomb is not clear enough or taken from a perspective that allows it to be read,” Sweetser said in an email.

The Sautereau family was a well-respected family from southern France. Chojnacki said Sautereau was most likely not an important figure in the family but was respected enough to be buried in a tomb.

Genealogy and documentation were very important to the French during the Romantic era, which occurred from the late 18th century and peaked around the mid 19th century. Although Sautereau died during the 1600’s, his family was deemed important enough for the French during that era to create an armorial – or in-depth documentation of the family’s genealogy – which can be found online. The Sautereau family crest is located on the wall of the chapel.

“These (armorials) came out a lot in the late 1800s,” Chojnacki said. “There were tons of them.”

The engraving on the tomb is faint, and can only be partially deciphered.
Maryam Tunio
The engraving on the tomb is faint, and can only be partially deciphered.


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    Lorraine PowelOct 29, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    Very interesting article

  • L

    Lauren WalterOct 29, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    What if the writings themselves were publicized? You never know who could read them. I am sure someone out there has the right background to decipher them.