The Graveyard                       
Few modern gothic styled horror movies would be complete without a spectacular graveyard to raise the hair on the back of the neck.  But graveyards filled with gravestones and mossy monuments were not part of the church landscape of the middle ages.  Tombstones did not come into general use until after the reformation, when a strengthening middle class began to compete with the nobility for honors in memoriam.  It was then that grave stones, many of them imitating the memorial basses inside the church, began to crop up in the churchyards.

[Douglas, Kirk Braddan, Isle of Man, England]

The faithful of the middle ages believed the deceased would first spend time in Purgatory, a place between heaven and hell, where their sins would be burnt away so their souls might enter the perfection of heaven.  The prayers of those left behind on earth, and the goodworks performed while they lived (such as donating money to a church or monastery) would shorten the time they were required to spend before entering heaven.

The wealthy and influential, then, could gain the appreciation of a monastic community by a generous donation.  In turn, the monks would remember them in their prayers, offices, and devotions, thereby speeding their entry into heaven.  In addition, monasteries often had strong family and economic ties to important local families and landowners.  The burial of the local gentry, and local patrons, patronesses and benefactors, within the church, reinforced the idea of the importance of the church within the power structure of the community.

Burial inside the church or monastery, then, was an especial honor, and the burial itself was memorialized by some particular marker, either a stone or wooden carving, or by one of the beautiful engraved brasses of the 12th through 15th centuries.  (Also see Chantries, under Chapels).  All others were perhaps embalmed, usually shrouded in cloth, and buried on the south side of the church (the north side being reserved for criminals, suicides, and heretics).  Later, the bones would be dug up from the grave yard and placed in a communal crypt.

[The church crypt, Hythe, England]

Among the monks themselves, a monk of particular position or importance would be interred in the church, cloister, chapter house, or elsewhere in the monastery.   All others would be buried in the south church yard.  The exception was the Cistercians, who buried their dead in the cloister garth.  Regardless of where they were buried, close attention was paid to the dead of the monastery (careful records were kept on Mortuary Rolls), especially on the anniversary of a brother's death, and all were remembered by the whole community in communal prayers and daily devotions.


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