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What Are Medieval Transi Tombs?


In the Middle Ages, death was around every corner. Disease, war, inadequate healthcare and poverty meant that an average person's lifespan in the Middle Ages was just thirty-five years old (Newman). In a time where only 25% of infants were expected to survive childhood, death was far more commonplace in the Middle Ages than it is now (Orme). Our medieval ancestors actually had a term for this: momento mori, or "remember that you will die".



Momento mori was represented in a variety of ways in medieval art and literature. Perhaps the best-known example of momento mori comes from medieval transi tombs, funerary monuments that depicted the deceased in a stage of decomposition, or as skeletons. Although it sounds morbid to us, to the medieval population transi tombs acted as a reminder of a fate that would become of everyone. They also became fashionable - to have a transi tomb commissioned after your death meant that you were often a person of high standing, or could afford such an expensive tomb.



There existed a belief in the Middle Ages that the earthly body was just a transitional vessel for the soul, and that after death the spirit would be resurrected. Transi tombs became popular for this very reason, and it was common for many clerical figureheads of the time to commission these tombs for themselves. Some notable transi tombs containing the remains of clerics include Richard Fleming, who was Bishop of Lincoln from 1420 - 1431, and Henry Chichele, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1414 - 1443 (The Haunted Palace).



What do you think of medieval transi tombs? Should we bring this style of tomb back? Have you ever seen a medieval transi tomb in person? - let us know!




Sources:


Newman, P. B., Growing Up in the Middle Ages. (McFarland: 2007), p. 243.


Orme, N., Historical Essays: Childhood in Medieval England, c.500 - 1500. Available at: https://www.representingchildhood.pitt.edu/medieval_child.htm.


The Haunted Palace, Medieval Death: The Cadaver Tomb. Available at: https://hauntedpalaceblog.wordpress.com/2018/08/15/medieval-death-the-cadavar-tomb-transi-tomb/.

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