Goodbye To All That: Narbonne’s (now defunct) Lapidarium

Lapidarium, Lapidaire, Narbonne, France

On this blog, I have all too frequently written about exhibitions after they have closed, but now I’ve outdone myself:  this post is on a museum that no longer exists.  Yes, it closed down, not long after I visited – the collection going to be rehoused in a new museum in 2020.  No matter how good the new museum may turn out to be, it’s a real shame, because this unique location helped to make it a lovely experience – though my joy in walking around it had a lot to do with the fact that I felt like an 18th century antiquarian who was exploring the past.  But I get that not everyone finds that appealing as a concept.

Inside the Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

The collection was housed in the Church of Notre Dame de Lamourguié.  It was built in 1289 and attached to the Benedictine order,  but stopped performing services from 1572.  The priory came under the congregation of a different group of Benedictines in 1662, which led to work being carried out in the galleries and the creation of a bell tower.  With the French Revolution, the Benedictine lands were sold to the town of Narbonne, and between 1824 and 1889 the building served as stables and barracks for soldiers.

At this time the Narbonne Archaeological and Literary Arts Commission was busy looking for somewhere to store the vast amount of interesting Roman stones they’d found while dismantling the city’s fortifications.  In 1889, the church became the lapidary’s official home – an interesting choice of location, which actually gave the collection a very striking and attractive setting.

Ceiling of the church, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

A little face gazing out of the Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Medieval faces in the walls of the Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

About 2000 stones were on show in the church – most of them taken from funerary monuments made during the first two centuries BC.  The reason why they are all in such regular ‘block’ shapes is because they were used in late antiquity to build the city’s ramparts.  Finds from other parts of town, during other episodes of demolition work, also made their way here, as did the collection of the Archbishop of Narbonne, Le Goux de la Berchere, who in the 18th century created a small lapidary collection in his gardens.

However, there were also some medieval and, I think, 18th century monument fragments scattered about in the side chapels.  There were also quite a few lead coffins, which were presumably from the early Christian period, which could quite easily be touched by visitors – and which, by their very nature, should be (and presumably will be) afforded rather more protection.

Anyway, apart from being given a photocopied, 4-sided sheet about the lapidary, and some of the things we should look at, there was no information in the museum itself about what the stones represented.  Even when there were some stones with legible inscriptions, again there was no information.  This didn’t bother me within this context, because it was so nice just exploring, but clearly we missed a number of interesting stones because we didn’t or couldn’t read them.  Hopefully some of these will be on display in the new museum, with translations.

Because of the lack of information, I have given the stones my own names, so my interpretation of some of the visuals may be way off.  Well, I’ll find out in 2020!

Shields and a bird, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Armour and shield, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Range of Roman decoration, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Decorative stones and church, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Inside the chapels, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Writing and columns, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Faces, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Cupid in a shell, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Grumpy looking flower, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Pot next to a shrine, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Line of shields, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Two door knockers, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

A face in the foliage, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Picturesque arrangement, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

At the top, two dogs facing each other, and below a scholar at a desk with an open cupboard, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Bits and pieces against the wall, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

A cherub carrying a garland, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Cherub lifting a garland, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Odds and ends, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Standing female figure, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Face with ringlets, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

A scholar at a desk with an open cupboard, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Monuments from the church, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Portrait of a woman in a funerary monument, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Portrait bust of a couple from a funerary monument, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

A face lurching out of a shell, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Some lead coffins, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Knife on a funerary monument, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Funerary Monument of Marcia, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Arches and stones, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Hand on hip, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Two knives on a funerary monument, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Figures from a temple scene, maybe, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Figures from a procession, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Remains of a funerary banquet scene, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Figure of a barbarian, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Figure of a barbarian with a raised hand, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Figure with a beard, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Stone against stone, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Bust of a figure from a funerary monument, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Feeties amongst randoms, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Shields, armour and a helmet, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Shields and armour, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Theatrical mask and garland, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Funarary monument with a bust, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

A dancing menead, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Funerary monument with two figures and a dog, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

I think it’s a Christian sarcophagus, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Cupid carrying a garland, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Possibly the torso of a charging gladiator, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Figure of a soldier, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Funerary monument with three figures, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Funerary urn, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Funerary monument with a bust and cupid, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Wall of decorative stone, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

A theatrical mask and garland, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

A face, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Walking through corridors of stones, Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Last view of the Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

Lapidaire Museum, Narbonne, France

So In Summary

I think it’s a real shame that the Lapidaire no longer exists.  From reading reviews on line, I gather it divided people – some people deplored the lack of information and the general dullness of the objects, while others, like me, thought the whole thing was rather lovely.  As I said in my introduction, this was the closest I’ve ever got to feeling like an 18th century antiquarian, trotting around and discovering my own finds among the piles of stones, where fascinating images were often hidden in the middle of a pile of repetitive patterns.  Apart from anything else, the sheer amount of stone gave you a good idea of what it might have been like to stumble across these remnants of the ancient world, hidden in medieval walls for centuries. Well, it’s gone forever now, and I hope that this fascinating collection’s new home in NarboVia will capture some of the spirit of the Lapidaire.

 

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