Parish Priests and Their People in the Middle Ages in England

By Edward L. Cutts | Go to book overview

DESCRIPTION OF PLATES.
BURIAL OF THE DEADFrontispiece
The illustration taken from a French MS. of the middle of the
fifteenth century [ Egerton 2019, f. 142, British Museum] will reward
a careful study. Begin with the two pictures introduced into the
broad ornamental border at the bottom of the page. On the left are a
pope, an emperor, a king, and queen; on the right Death, on a black
horse, hurling his dart at them.
Go on to the initial D of the Psalm Dilexi quoniam exaudiet
Dominus vocem
: "I am well pleased that the Lord hath heard the
voice of my complaint." It represents a canon in surplice and canon's
fur hood, giving absolution to a penitent who has been confessing to
him (note the pattern of the hanging at the back of the canon's seat).
Next consider the picture in the middle of the border on the right. It
represents the priest in surplice and stole, with his clerk in are
kneeling behind him and making the responses, administering the last
Sacrament to the dying person lying on the bed. Next turn to the
picture in the left-hand top corner of a woman in mourning, with an
apron tied about her, arranging the grave-clothes about the corpse, and
about to envelope it in its shroud. In the opposite corner, three clerks
in surplice and cope stand at a lectern singing the Psalms for the
departed; the pall which covers the coffin may be indistinctly made
out, and the great candlesticks with lighted candles on each side of it.
All these scenes lead us up to the principal subject, which is the burial.
The scene is a graveyard (note the grave crosses) surrounded by a
cloister, entered by a gate tower; the gables, chimneys, and towers of
a town are seen over the cloister roof; note the skulls over the cloister
arches, as though the space between the groining and the timber roof
were used as a charnel house. The priest is asperging the corpse with
holy water as the rude sextons lower the body into the grave. Note
that it is not enclosed in a coffin--that was not used until comparatively
recent times. He is assisted by two other priests, all three vested in
surplices and black copes with a red-and-gold border; the clerk holds
the holy-water vessel. Three mourners in black cloak and hood stand
behind. The story is not yet finished. Above is seen our Lord in
an opening through a radiant cloud which sheds its beams of light
over the scene; the departed soul [de--parted = separated from the
body] is mounting towards its Lord with an attitude and look of
rapture; Michael the Archangel is driving back with the spear of the
cross the evil angel disappointed of his' prey. Lastly, study the
beautiful border. Is it fanciful to think that the artist intended
the vase of flowers standing upon the green earth as a symbol of
resurrection, and the exquisite scrolls and twining foliage and many-
coloured blossoms which surround the sad scenes of death, to symbolize
the beauty and glory which surround those whom angels shall wait
upon in death, and carry them to Paradise?

-xv-

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