This lyric displays the key reason for thinking about death in the Middle Ages: the salvation of the soul. An individual who went through life without paying heed to his impending death would likewise not keep in mind the care of his soul. Death functioned not just as a terrifying adversary who would inevitably conquer you, but as an agent of God who potentially brought you to union with Christ. Those who took proper care of their souls would find the utmost reward at the end and enjoy the blisses Heaven offered. Those who remained careless and sinful would suffer pains in Purgatory, or, if they neglected to repent, would endure eternal suffering in Hell.

Judgment Day

Judgment Day represented not the end of time as the end of the relevance of time. Eternity was not so much far in the future, as constantly the present. The bodies of the dead were each resurrected, and would be judged by God according to their deeds in life, then consigned to bliss in Heaven or damnation in Hell. An illustration from the Grandes Heures de Rohan shows the resurrection of the dead, who are assisted in climbing out of their graves by angels. To the left, Eve greets Adam. God sits enthroned as Judge, a conflation of Christ the redeemer, with crown of thorns and bleeding side, and God the Father, the orb in his hand representing his dominion over created things. The fully clad man at the bottom right contrasts with the naked figures of the resurrected dead; his despairing expression and downward gaze are juxtaposed with the heavenward glances of the more hopeful figures. Harthan (p. 84), supposes that this figure could represent those people still alive at the time of the Last Judgment. The illustration is from Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. lat. 9471, fol. 154r, and is reproduced in Harthan, p. 83.


Souls were dispersed to eternal bliss with God or eternal suffering in Hell at the Last Judgment. While the official designation of "saved" or "damned" was not given until Doomsday, medieval writings always depicted departed ones as "already there," as if, for the dead, eternity was always now. Dante, when he travels to Hell in the Inferno, sees departed contemporary Brunetto Latini being punished in Canto 15. Likewise, the anonymous narrator of the Middle English Pearl sees his infant daughter already among the 144,000 virgins in the New Jerusalem, despite John of Patmos' assertion that it would only be built after the Apocalypse. An illustration from the manuscript of Pearl, showing the dreamer bidding farewell to his Pearl Maiden. The river of mortality separates them. Even in the damaged illustration, it is possible to see through their outstretched hands the grief of separation by Death.


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