Daily Draw: The Wild Wood Tarot, Seven of Vessels/Cups, Mourning
In medieval England the deceased were considered part of the community and care of the dead shaped popular piety and church organisation. On the feast of All Souls families left gifts of food and drink and lit fires beside graves so that their dead loved ones might warm their bones. As the middle ages wore on the Church increasingly frowned upon such practices viewing them as superstitious rather than pious.
The fear that one’s relatives were suffering in purgatory was a considerable psychological burden in a society in which kinship was the major social bond. The living often sought to ease the sufferings of the departed and accelerate their journey to heaven. A living person might recite the psalms, fast, go on pilgrimage or give alms on behalf of a dead person. By the high middle ages the mass was increasingly promoted as the best way to help those in purgatory.
The living could never be certain how much prayer would be sufficient to transport their relatives into heaven. Hence, in the later middle ages, there was an inflation in the number of masses for the dead. Some wealthy people arranged for hundreds and even thousands of masses.
The will of John Ferriby made in 1470 was not unusual. He paid his chaplain twelve and one-half marks to sing mass daily for a year. He gave the priests at Beverly forty shillings and a silver salt cellar and the vicars and Beverly the same amount to recite after supper forevermore the psalm 130 for his soul, his parents’ souls and all Christian souls. Ten shillings was promised to every friar at Beverly and Hull who would sing mass for thirty days. He also put in a request for a hundred masses at Beverly Minster.
The demand for masses led to serious unanticipated consequences. The cumulative effect of hundreds of thousands of fees had quite an impact on the clergy. Whereas previously monks prayed at certain hours and earned part of their living through manual labour, they were to find themselves increasingly occupied in offering masses and prayer. Later the sale of indulgences (providing a short cut into heaven) for money were to rouse Luther’s ire altering the history of the entire Church.
Sources for this post:
Bossy, J (1985) Christianity in the West 1400-1700, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lynch, J. H. (2013) The Medieval Church: A Brief History, London: Routledge.