chapter  14
Death and Purgatory
Pages 22

The fourteenth century might rightly be thought of as the century during which the popes lived at Avignon. That story awaits the next chapter. Another, more profound reason commends the fourteenth century to our attention: no century in the Middle Ages was more calamitous in terms of the destruction of human life than the fourteenth century. Twice the scourge of massive mortality struck Western Europe, first with a devastating famine and then with the catastrophe of the Black Death. In these tragic circumstances what comfort religion could bring to the dying and to those who mourned them came largely from a belief in an afterlife in which there were not only a heaven and a hell but also a purgatory, heaven’s antechamber, a place of cleansing for good but not perfect souls, a place to which all might hope for admission. Death hovered over this century like no other in the Middle Ages.