The so-called “Tomb of Piltrude”
Built into the north wall of the presbytery of the Temple are two fragments of sculpture of the Longobard period, dating back to the third quarter of the 8th century. They come from a kind of sarcophagus which had been placed on the floor in the same presbytery, probably during the Middle Ages. It is known as the sarcophagus of Piltrude and according to tradition it contained the remains of the abbess Piltrude. Hence also the legend that Piltrude founded the Monastery.
Piltrude was indeed an abbess, but of another monastery: the monastery at Salt di Povoletto, north-west of Cividale, which she founded with her three sons, of noble Longobard race, who also created other important monasteries such as the one at Sesto al Reghena, in Friuli. The monastery at Salt seems to have already disappeared by 889, according to a Carolingian diploma of that period which mentions only the existence of a cell at Salt, subject to the Monastery of Sesto al Reghena. By that time the nuns had probably already moved to Cividale, taking with them part of their possessions and the remains of the first abbess. Hence the veneration which was also continued at Cividale and the particular bond that seems to exist with the Monasteries founded by Piltrude’s family, as is suggested also by the possession and veneration of the same relics, such as those of Saint Anastasia. It is not clear when the veneration for Piltrude began. The sarcophagus seems to have been made after the raising of the presbytery floor, which took place not before the 13th century, probably much more recently. However the sarcophagus, which was dismantled in the second half of the last century during restoration work on the Temple, might have been the replacement of a much older element. While it was being dismantled, human bones belonging to three individuals were found inside it and reburied in a box below the altar in the Temple, where they have remained to this day. The two slabs used to make the tomb are important examples of sculpture from the late Longobard period (third quarter of the 8th century) and seem to share the same decorative patterns found on the urn of Saint Anastasia, in the Monastery of Sesto al Reghena, though the style gives less emphasis to chiaroscuro and is carved less precisely.The slabs originally had another function: they were once the side parapets of a pulpit. They probably belonged to a pulpit that might have stood originally in the nearby church of San Giovanni. The pieces could have been made available after the presbytery enclosure in the church was renovated in the Carolingian period.