chapter  2
32 Pages

FROM DEATH-BED TO REMEMBRANCE

The death-bed scenes and burial of the body followed definite procedures, though these changed over time and some parts are much better understood and documented than others. Ultimately the liturgy and procedures concerning Christian death and burial were derived from late Roman practice (P. Brown 1981) and were then further developed in France by the Frankish kings between 750 and 850 (Paxton 1990). The monastic movement of the eleventh and twelfth centuries then spread a more standardised burial liturgy across Europe. Following Rowell’s account, the liturgy of the Cluniac order can be described in detail (Rowell 1977: 64-5). When a monk felt the moment of death approaching, he would summon the abbot or prior to hear his confession and to receive extreme unction. The dying monk was brought into the presence of the whole chapter to confess publicly his sins, whereupon he would be absolved. He was then taken back to bed where he received extreme unction. This was given by the priest for that week, who came to the bedside in procession with servers, holy water, cross, candles, and the rest of the community. Whilst the dying man received communion, psalms were recited, after which the staff of the infirmary watched over him and a cross and lighted candles were placed at the head of the bed. At the moment of death the man was laid on sack-cloth and ashes, the ashes being in the shape of a cross (pers. comm. D.Crouch) and signifying penitence. The cloister door was beaten to assemble the community to the bedside and then the creed, litanies and prayers were recited. At the time of death the prior commended the departing soul with prayers. This procedure also was followed by other monastic communities besides the Cluniacs. When Archbishop Anselm was on the ‘point of death,…he was lifted from his bed onto sackcloth and ashes’ (Southern 1979: 143).