Illustrated Dictionary of British Churches

History and Architecture

Rebus

A rebus is a visual pun, a pictogram, or play on words, usually in the form of a painting or carving  that illustrates a family name. Rebuses are often found on medieval tombs where they depict in a visual manner the family name of the deceased. They are also often found as decorative elements (such as a roof boss) remembering an important church patron. Rebus principles are frequently used in heraldry, where the pictogram practise is called canting. A commonly used symbol in rebuses was a barrel, which in the medieval period was known as a tun. Thus a barrel symbol could be used to represent the last part of a name like Bolton (Bolt + tun).

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