We know what Wisigarde, Arnegunde and Balthilde looked like…
Wisigarde († 540), Arnegunde († 580) and Balthilde († 680) were respectively of Lombardian, Frankish and Anglo-Saxon descent. They were all Merovingian Queens. At their death they were dressed in their finest and buried with some of their most beautiful jewelry. Thus they present us with a glimpse of what they looked like when they died.
Wisigarde was daughter of the Lombardian king Wacho (510 -540) and the Gepidic princess, Austrigusa. In 531 she was betrothed to the Merovingian king, Theudebert I, whom she married in 538. In 1540 she was buried in the Cathedral of Cologne in grave together with her jewels and a luxurious set of drinking cups, horns, glasses and other utensils.
Arnegunde was the third wife of Clothar I and mother til Chilperich I. She died around 580 nearly twenty years later than her husband. She was buried in St. Denis in Paris in a stone sarcophagus. She was app. 1.50 – 1.60 high and must have limped since child. Her dress was made of precious Byzantine silks and adorned with jewels. At the exhibition her sarcophagus is for the first time shown outside France.
Balthilde was born in England. Around 641 she came to the French court in Paris around 650, where she married the 16year old Clodvig II. After his death she governed on behalf of her young son. However in 665 she withdrew to the nunnery at Chelles, where she was buried some time after 680. Her body was venerated as a relic. Accordingly her attire was preserved and is shown at the exhibition.
It is seldom that archeology provides us with such detailed information about identifiable persons. However, due to such artifacts like e.g. the signet-ring of Arnegunde, archaeologist have been able to identify the persons and present us with a glimpse of what they looked like, their clothes and textiles as well as jewelry. At the same time they have been able to shed light on the burial customs while historians have weaved a rich cultural history of their lives and times.
This fascinating story is told in detail in a beautiful exhibition in Frankfurt, which also shows the remains of two children buried underneath the floor of the Cathedral in Frankfurt.
A catalogue accompanies the exhibition. In the first part historians and archaeologist have written about the history of the female elite in Merovingian time plus detailed information about the textiles and treasures found in their graves. The second part presents the actual artifacts, which are on show.
Archäologisches Museum Frankfurt
Karmelitergasse 1, Frankfurt am Main
10.12. 2012 bis 24.02.2013
Königinnen der Merowinger – Adelsgräber aus den Kirchen von Köln, Saint-Denis, Chelles und Frankfurt am Main
Ed by Patrick Périn and Egon Wamers.
Schnell + Steiner 2012