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Final Farewell: The Culture of Death and the Afterlife

The Christian Afterlife

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Opening Page for the Opening Page for the Office of the Dead from a Book of HoursOffice of the Dead from a Book of Hours

This illuminated manuscript leaf is taken from a medieval Book of Hours, which was a prayer book meant for private devotional use. The page opened the Office of the Dead, the last section in a Book of Hours. The Office of the Dead was an integral part of the medieval funeral service and was used to pray for souls of the deceased so that they could be released from Purgatory and hopefully go to Heaven.

This particular page is unusual because most opening pages only contain one hand-painted picture (or miniature) while five scenes are illustrated here. The largest miniature depicts Christ raising Lazarus. The four surrounding images (clockwise from top to bottom) also show typical medieval imagery associated with death and the afterlife: 1) a priest blesses a dying man; 2) the man is buried, and an angel and demon battle over his soul; 3) four men speak to the Old Testament figure of Job; and 4) the story of “The Three Living and the Three Dead.” According to that story, the corpses say, “We were once as you are now, and what we are, you soon will be.” The central text on the page translates from Latin as “I have loved, because the Lord will hear the voice of my prayer. Because he has inclined his ear unto me…”

Anonymous
(French, 15th c.)
Opening Page for the Office of the Dead from a Book of Hours
ca. 1460
Ink, tempera, gold paint and gold leaf on vellum
(2006.76)
Gilbreath-McLorn Museum Fund and
Gift of the Museum Associates

 

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