Litre funéraire (Painted funereal band)

A litre funéraire (painted funereal band, aka litre seigneuriale) is a black band that was painted inside or outside of the walls of churches and chapels in France in medieval times and the Ancien Régime. The name derives from latin: “litura funeris”, which can be translated: “place that is revised for funeral”.


The litre (short for “litre funéraire”) is usually a horizontal black band, that was painted on the plaster of walls and columns in a height of 2.50-4 metres. It was on average 30 centimetres wide. In case of the death of a person that held the jus patronatus the insignia (heraldric crown and coats of arms) of that person have been painted on the black band.

Litre in der Kirche von Rioux (Charente-Maritime), Foto von Cobber17, Lizenz: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0/CC by

Litre in the church of Rioux (Charente-Maritime), photo by Cobber17, licence: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0/CC by


During the Merovingian dynasty (5.-8. Jahrhundert) the Carolingian Empire has been christianized. Noble Franks built chapels for themselves and their retinue. They were the owners of the chapels and this ownership was hereditary. The owners could sell the chapels and churches or give them away. That was called “dominium laicus” (secular dominion).

The Pope Gregory VII (1020-1085) initiated the investiture controversy (1076-1122), a political conflict between Church and state mainly about the investiture of bishops. Due to the Concordat of Worms (1122) and the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) a new jus patronatus was established in France, replacing the old dominium laicus. Laity could not own a church anymore, they could become patron of a church. As patron they were allowed to nominate a clergyman if a position was vacant (jus praesentendi). One of the rights of the patrons was the commemorative painting on the litre.

Litre in the church Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens in Chantérac (Dordogne), photo by Père Igor, licence: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0/CC by SA

First litres were painted at the end of the 11th century, especially during the First Crusade (1096-1099). In those times the litre have been painted mostly on the outer walls of churches and they were not permanent. The coat of arms of the deceased was deleted by painting it black on the day of his “Obituaire” (Requiem Mass), that was celebrated one year after their funeral.

At the end of the 14th century the jus patronatus was hereditary, the litres were mostly in the churches and the coats of arms on the litres were permanent. More and more nobles received the jus patronatus by donations. At the beginning of the 17th century this right had to be regularized anew. In 1615 a bill was written that regularized every detail, the new right was accepted enthusiastically and the number of coats of arms on the litres declined. But the reputation of the litres had been already damaged by misuse. In some of the churches the patron went so far as to paint coats of arms on crucifixes.

On 13 April 1791 the National Assembly of the French Revolution decided that the litres should be removed completely from public churches and chapels by the patron. This enactment did not encounter much resistance, because at that time the litres were rarely used anymore. Litres that were not removed because of the enactment often disappeared later because of renovation works or decomposition. They are very rare these days.

Total verblasste Litre an der Kirche Notre-Dame in Notre-Dame-d'Épine (Eure, Haute-Normandie), die Litre war mit ortsüblichem gelben Lehm überschmiert worden, der an den Ecken der Kirche jedoch abgefallen ist, diese Behandlung hat der Litre jedoch nicht gut getan, eigenes Foto: Lizenz: Creative Commons attribution, CC by

Faded Litre on the outer wall of the church Notre-Dame in Notre-Dame-d'Épine (Eure, Haute-Normandie), own photo, licence: Creative Commons attribution, CC by


A former litre was covered with clay on the outer walls of the church in Morsan (Eure), own photo, licence: public domain


Pierre Bodin: Les litres seigneuriales des églises de l’Eure. Amis des Monuments et Sites de l’Eure, Amis de Bernay, Condé-sur-Noireau 2005. (French)

Mathias Mareschal; Jean Adrien Sérieux (Hrsg.): Traité des droits honorifiques des patrons et seigneurs dans les églises, par m. Maréchal, avec les autres traités qui y étoient joints. Cheron, Paris 1772, S. 333-379 (in Google Books). (French)

External links

photos of litres funéraires in Wikimedia Commons

Creative Commons License
Litre funéraire (Painted funereal band) by stanze, stanzebla, Stanzilla is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s