Death and Burial in Medieval Times
Sacha Hand

Death and Burial in Medieval Times.docx

Article Précis: Effros, Bonnie, Caring for Body and Soul. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002, 1-39.

Focus: This chapter explores the symbolic significance of clothing and accessories for the deceased. It mainly discusses the various types of garments, adornments and accessories used during funerals and their underlying meaning.

Symbolic Significance
Personal Adornment
Although personal the customs associated with personal adornment often gained alternative meanings in the context of funerals, such garments, accessories, and other possessions were the same as those used in life. (13)

…the ability of particular styles of dress, possessions, and hairstyles to convey religious belief, personal idiosyncrasies, and an individual’s place in the life cycle. (14)
In life, just as in death, personal adornment communicated various aspects of an individual’s identity to other members of his or her society. As has been proposed by Ellen-Jane Prader in her study of early Anglo-Saxon burial remains: Bodily adornment is seen as being a potential means of expressing and reinforcing one’s sex role, social identity and group affiliation as well as being a form of protection from the elements…(14)

The successful conveyance of symbolic messages through bodily adornment is therefore dependent to a large extent on the circumstances in which the display occurs, the manner in which it is accomplished, and its audience. This form of expression is only effective, however, if the signs chosen to communicate are understood by the viewers. (14)
Accessories/Grave goods
Bodily adornment represented a particularly important sort of visual expression. It could serve either to reinforce and validate the social order or to challenge existing conventions. (14)

Although individual objects deposited in sepulchers were not ordinarily distinguishable from similar items used by the living, they gained new symbolic meaning in this last permanent application (18)

Goods such as swords, jewelry and other precious artifacts were placed in sepulchers. (19)
The grooming of hair, the choice of costume, and the possession of symbolic and ritual objects likewise communicated to contemporaries the many facets of an individual’s relationship to the community and his or her place in a larger sphere. (14)

Brooches, weapons, amulets, and clothing did more than just keep those who wore them warm, dry, and safe; the also played an ideological role in conveying to contemporaries various aspects of a person’s identity. (17)

Grave goods, particularly luxury artifacts, thus had “semiotic virtuosity” and significant ideological potential” (18)

Implication: In my opinion, this article provides a greater understanding of the significance of personal adornment. The choice of clothing used during a funeral dictated the importance of the individual and their place in society. It further proves the argument that social identity was not only important in life but it was also important in death as by the various grave goods and artifacts that were displayed with the deceased.

Article Précis: Bornstein, Daniel E. Medieval Christianity. Fortress Press, 2009, 53-74

Focus: The main focus of this chapter is to explore the various types of burial rites and passage in early Medieval Europe. The author explores the connection between exemplary saints and glorified monuments, tombs and ceremonies. It also discussed the various and sometimes elaborate ritual activities during burials.

Main Idea
Tombs of Saints
The deaths of exemplary Christians were highly celebrated events, since the souls of martyrs and confessors were believed to rise directly to heaven regardless of the state of their human remains. (54)
The veneration of such figures meant that priests, monks, and nuns who were often members of the religious communities out of which these figures emerged, had great incentive to compose hagiographical works that recalled not only their virtues and accomplishments during their lifetime but also the miracles performed in their names after their deaths. (54)
Burial Inscriptions / Grave Goods
Goods – Regardless of location and the religion of the deceased, grave goods were one of the most widespread burial customs practiced in Western Europe during the early Middle Ages. (67)
In addition to items associated with associated with garments, such as belt buckles, jewelry, and toiletry items, the deceased were often laid to rest with weaponry, purses filled with small miscellaneous objects, and even furniture in exceptional circumstances. (68)
Graves and Cemeteries
Graves in close proximity to the tombs or reliquaries of the saints were beneficial to the welfare of Christian souls. (59)
Accounts of the lives of saints emphasized the importance of burial ad sanctos (next to saints) for early medieval Christians. (59)
Performance of Funeral Rites
The burial rite thus had performative elements in its structuring with respect to an anticipated target audience. All aspects of the undertaking contributed to the end product: an idealization of the achievements (or potential achievements in the case of children) of the deceased. (62)

The status or visibility of the deceased within the community played a determining role, since the more prominent or notorious an individual, the larger the group that participated in funeral arrangements and attend the ceremonies that accompanied burial. (65)
The theatrical potential of funerals is most easily demonstrated by the elaborate burials for kings and other powerful elites. (62)

The lavish grave of pagan Frankish king Childeric I, found at Tourna in southern Belgium in 1653, likewise shows the great potential of funerals to convey symbolism of continuity of power. (64)

Implication: In my opinion, this article proves that Medieval Christians placed as much emphasis on death as they did life. This is proved through the various rituals and ceremonies that take place when one dies. The importance of a Christian’s life is shown through the value of their relics and extraordinary monuments placed on grave. It is also evidenced through the burial inscriptions placed on these monuments. The medieval Christian’s desperately wanted to be remembered after death, the elaborate ceremony served this purpose.


Bornstein, Daniel B. A People’s History of Christianity: Medieval Christianity. Fortress Press, (2010): 53-74.

Effros, Bonnie. Caring for Body and Soul: Burial and Afterlife in the Merovingian World. Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.

Hadley, D. M. Death in Medieval England. South Carolina. Arcadia Publishing, Inc., 2001.

James, Edward. “Burial and Status in the Early Medieval West” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, Vol. 39 (1989): 23 – 40.

Westerhof, Danielle. Death and the Noble Body in Medieval England. Woodbridge. Boydell Press, 2008.

Deaths and burials is a very intriguing concept to me and that's way I decided to read and critique your wiki page. I would first like to say you did a great job of filling your paper with important information that the reader will need in order to understand the importance of burial during medieval times. However, there was one piece of information that really caught my attention and that was the fact that they place food into the tomb. Had you not inputted that into your paper I would have never learned that. This paper also includes the why's, how's and who's that are associated with this topic. Also great job on implementing clear and precise writing skills. Critique By LaKeta S.