The Discovery of Abbot Talaricus' (817-3 October 823) Tomb at San Vincenzo Al Volturno

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During the summer of 1996 the excavations of San Vincenzo Maggiore, the 9th-century abbey-church of the monastery of San Vincenzo al Volturno, entered a new phase [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. A trial trench in the area immediately in front of the facade of the 63-m long basilica examined the stratigraphy in its raised atrium (Hodges & Mitchell 1995: 43-7). The initial results show a complex architectural form for this area in front of the church. Our working hypothesis, in advance of full excavation, is that the atrium was entered at two levels with those entering from the raised eastwork which formed the eastern facade of the abbey-church complex, passing through covered porticoes to the principal door into the basilica. Numerous tombs were buried in these porticoes (below). The 1996 excavations revealed the probability that the atrium was also entered from the sides at ground level; certain categories of visitor may have passed into a central open court (beneath the elevated porticoes) before climbing up a flight of steps to the main door in the facade of the basilica. Only full-scale excavation will determine whether this interpretation is correct; at present it appears that our earlier interpretation (Hodges & Mitchell 1995) underestimated the complexity of the architectural concept realized in front of the basilica in the second quarter of the 9th century.

The most remarkable discovery made in the 1996 trial excavation was the tomb of Abbot Talaricus (817-3 October 823). Our earlier interpretation proposed that work on the great basilica was completed under Talaricus, while his successor, Abbot Epyphanius (824-42), was responsible for the ambitious atrium and eastwork. This hypothesis seems confirmed by these latest discoveries.

Talaricus' tomb is a carefully constructed block-built structure set against the front wall of the church, immediately to the north of the main door; internally c. 2.04 m long, 0.66 m wide and 0.64 m deep [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]. The head and foot of the tomb, of massive squared blocks of local limestone, with gently concave depressions on their inner faces, form shallow niches; and single large slabs closed the two sides. The cavity was covered by one massive limestone block, carefully cut and rebated to fit over the side walls. This had been partially lifted and fractured into five pieces at an early date. The floor of the tomb is made of five large terracotta floor-tiles. Two of these were inscribed before firing with signatures, IE and MA, in the typical San Vincenzo manner, and a third is marked with a peculiar branching device (Mitchell 1990: 199-205; 1994: 909-16). The central three tiles are pierced with holes in regular sequence, for drainage. Beneath this floor is a cavity about 0.4 m deep. The tomb is asymmetrical in construction. The slab which should form the eastern side of the tomb at first glance seems missing. Unlike the other sides this side is not plastered; it is set back from the niches, to form the western side of a subsequent block-built tomb to the east. However, the setting of the basal tiles, the finished edges of the plaster on the head-and foot-walls, and the shape of the cover-slab make it clear that the tomb was originally constructed in this way. Whether this was done with the intention of reopening the tomb from this side to insert further corpses, or for other reasons, remains unclear. Other tombs, including one with a prominent cappuccino superstructure, were built to the east and north of Talaricus' grave. Only further excavation will clarify the sequence of these and their relationship to the tombs of the two founding abbots.

The tomb of Talaricus contained the remains of six individuals. One fully articulated and a second partially articulated skeleton overlay a jumbled collection of bones at the foot of the grave, partially destroyed by rodents. A further two articulated lower legs were found within this pile of bones, which contained the remains of four more individuals, earlier occupants of the tomb, and presumably among them the bones of Talaricus himself. …