Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540

Article excerpt

Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540. By Amy Appleford. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015, Pp. 320. $65.00.)

"Remember that you are dust," says the Anglican priest as he or she imposes the mark of Ash Wednesday, "and to dust you shall return." From ancient times, philosophers and spiritual guides have reminded us of life's brevity. While particular cultural or subcultural approaches to death vary, one assumes that they usually are usually, or at least have been, serious. Petrarch, quoted by Amy Appleford, who teaches at Boston University, tells us that death should not elicit fear so much as contemplation. "The most harmful of all human ills," he wrote, "is to forget about God, yourself, and death" (81). As for London mayor Richard Whittington (c. 1354-1423), the prospect of death motivated him to work for the prosperity of his parish church, to give to the poor, and to set aside resources that would provide for "posthumous works of mercy" (74). Thus, aside from the good of the deeds themselves, Whittington appreciated the personal benefit of mitigating the rigors of post mortem existence. As Appleford writes, Whittington focused on "two temporal futures: his time in the intermediate realm of purgatory and the charitable foundations [he organized] . . . that will help shorten this time" (59). The ways that preparation for death had both personal and public effects is a central theme of this book.

For the general reader, the greatest benefit of Learning to Die in London comes in its references to texts by important authors. …

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