For salvation of the soul: Rituals before and after death in the Middle Ages (An introduction)


The question of death is essential at the level of individuals as well as society, from primitive tribes to high theology, ethics or philosophy. The Latin name for death—exitus letalis (natural departure)—implicitly suggests that death in our culture does not mean a definitive end but a mere “departure.” Based on the funeral rituals and myths found in nearly all cultures, almost none considered death to be a definitive end. What part of us departs, to where, in what way? What transcends our death? People in each historical period have had to address questions related to death and in time, developed a whole order of different rituals, ceremonies, myths and ideas embodied in art. No other period has been so permeated by thoughts of death as the Middle Ages. Being a part of everyday life, death was omnipresent, perceived as an inseparable part of the world of the living and the rituals that accompanied the dying person, the burial as well as requiem rites, were not an individual matter, but a societal event. The main aim of the present issue is to examine various aspects of predeath and funeral rituals in the Middle Ages within the context of Central Europe.