Death in the Middle Ages II
What facts about death in the Middle Ages would you expect to find? Last month’s blog, Medieval Look At Death, highlighted some interesting details about danse macabre and ossuaries, as well as other death-related experiences. This blog looks at a few more that we think you’ll agree are fascinating.
Transi Tombs: These tombs display effigies of a deceased person or persons during their advanced state of decomposition. At the point between a recognizable human and a skeleton, Transi tombs indicate the process that all life must go through during death. Most corpses in this state are hardly recognizable since they have been slowly devoured by monstrous creatures. Most tombs have two levels. The top depicts the person as peacefully departing life while the bottom level shows them in their current state. Certain tombs belonging to recognizable names such as Louis XII and Anne of Brittany are particularly descriptive.
Frau Welt: Mostly used as decorative elements in German cathedrals, Frau Welt are bizarre statues that depict youthful and beautiful young men or women on front side and disfigured and rotting corpses on the back side. The front of the statue is meant to portray an image of health and happiness while the back signifies the inevitable place we’ll all find ourselves. It’s meant to further signify that all the beauty and mundane pleasures in our lives are temporary deceptions that lead us to a state of moral corruption.
Apparent Death: In the Middle Ages, the absence of movement, breathing and sensitivity was enough to diagnose the death of a patient. This led to some unusual methods to try to wake the recently deceased, such as biting the toe or pricking with a needle. Doctors would place small ball of wool next to the patients mouth in hope of seeing a sign that he or she is still alive. Apparent death was infrequent during the Middle Ages as most corpses were left inside for several days before the funeral.
The Cult of Relics: The cult reached its peak during the 11th and 13th centuries and believed that body parts belonging to Christian saints had supernatural healing powers. The belief spread quickly and soon people began travelling vast distances to pray before these relics. Fragments were even sewn onto their clothes as most believed this was the only way to celebrate the Holy Communion.
Death-related traditions have changed so much since the Medieval Ages. We like to think we’ve come a long way but who knows what future generations will think of our traditions.