In eleventh- and twelfth-century Europe, the custom of deathbed entrance to the monastic life (professio ad succurrendum) flourished among the wealthy landowning elite. Terrified by the fear of death and eternal damnation, many a knight sought to end his days as a soldier of God, some through careful advance planning, others only when struck with illness or a mortal wound. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, it became increasingly common for lay Christians to seek to be clothed with a monastic habit only at the moment of death, or even after, with the habit treated as an item of burial clothing that could be combined with secular garments. The new mendicant orders helped to spread the latter custom among the urban middling classes, and confraternities and indulgences helped push it to new heights of popularity in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and beyond.
In this seminar, I will lay out the differences between the related but distinct customs of deathbed profession and lay burial in the religious habit and present a preliminary version of my account of how the second emerged out of the first. I will also sketch some of the main controversies surrounding these practices between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. If someone who had converted to the monastic life when they thought they were dying recovered and wanted to return to the world, should they be allowed to do so? What good could it possibly do for someone to take the religious habit only in death, especially if they had no intention of doing so in life? Could a profession made by a person who was barely conscious be valid? Were the religious who encouraged these practices really just pursuing gifts from wealthy people? Is it heretical and/or blasphemous to assert that no one who wears a certain type of religious habit can be damned? Never at the forefront of debates about monastic reform, questions such as these nonetheless surfaced repeatedly as part of broader discussions about topics like the permanence of monastic vows, antifraternalism, and the relative merits of faith and works.
The seminar will begin at 3:10 PM Eastern Daylight Time.
Join Zoom Meeting: https://utoronto.zoom.us/j/84963125682
Meeting ID: 849 6312 5682
For further information, please contact Institute Secretary Cynthia Watson at email@example.com
Image: Tomb effigy of King Robert of Naples (d. 1343) wearing a Franciscan habit and royal crown. Pacio and Giovanni Bertini, Church of Santa Chiara, Naples (pre-WWII damage).