I am constantly amazed at what I truffle out whilst
rummaging around in boxes at street brocantes here.
Lying at the bottom of one box I was looking through recently was a small wooden post box. It had the usual sealing wax on the outside and I knew that they were usually used to post items of value, eg. jewellery.
The address label alone (which had been 'sealed' onto the box with red wax) immediately intrigued me. It was addressed to a Monsieur Muteau, the 'ancient premier president de la cour de Dijon", the railway label showed it had come from Besancon. I noticed that it had what looked like a few old letters folded up inside - but I didn't actually look at them in detail until I got home. But what a surprise I had when I did so!
There were 5 letters in all - all hand-written in beautiful italic-scrolled writing of the period - and wrapped in some felt, right at the bottom of the box was a small tablet of marble with an inscription in latin on it.
What on earth could it all mean?
I have been unable to translate all the letters but have been able to determine the following:
Letter 1: Dated 6 April 1867, it is from the office of the Archbishop of Besancon to a Monsieur MUTEAU . In it the bishop says he is greatly impressed by what he has seen of Monsieur Muteau's work [M. Muteau appears to have worked in the office of the 'Premier President honoraire' at the 'Cour Imperiale de Dijon'] and, in gratitude, is asking him to accept a gift. That gift is the marble tablet which, the bishop states, had originally been given to him by Pope Pious IX - who had given his permission for the tablet to be handed on. He says " the tablet is not only a unique piece of antique marble; more than that it is an original piece of a foundation stone - which I would like you to have at your home".
Letters 2 and 3: - both dated 11 April 1869 - are written by M. MUTEAU. One addressed to 'Eminence'; the other addressed to
'Saint Pere' - which I believe may have been to the Pope himself.
The former states that he has received from Le Cardinal Mathieu [who was the Archbishop of Besancon] the title:
"Commandeur de L'ordre de Pie IX" which " his holiness had deigned to award him" - and the letter goes on to thank his eminence for the part he played in the 'ordre' being granted.
The latter is to 'Saint Pere' - and thanks 'his holiness' for 'crowning my long life as a magistrate with the title of "Commandeur de son Ordre de Pie IX".
Letter 4: Dated 9 August 1869, this letter , I think, is written by the wife of M. Muteau to the Archbishop informing him that her husband " is no longer with us", mentioning great pain he was in on 6 Aout.
Unfortunately the writing is so 'squiggly' that I cannot decipher any more of it!
Letter 5: Dated 19 August 1870 this letter is from the office of the Archbishop of Besancon, as before, which is addressed to M. Muteau's wife. In it he explains to her that, before his death, her husband had written two letters - one to the Pope, the other to Cardinal Antonelli; that these letters, he told her, were "above all for the Pope to see to whom M. Muteau had sought absolution for some criticism...a serious comment about religion which I had still not been seen to do" - and that he was enclosing copies of both the letters [namely letters 2 and 3 above] "as an interesting memento for the family".
The marble tablet referred to in the first letter measures 4.5" x 3" (11 x 7.5 cms) and is 12 mm thick.
Inscribed on the top is:
"FRAGMENTUM LAPIDIS E CALLIXTI COEMETERIO AMOTI
AN. XXII SACRI PRINCIPATUS
PII. IX PONT.MAX"
This roughly translates as:
"A small slab of stone removed from the Callixti cemetery.
In the 22nd year of the sacred government
Pious IX Pontifex maximus"
I think there is a fascinating story here, but do I simply do not have the time to investigate it further.
I shall leave that pleasure to the new owner!!
A prochaine mes belles