Skip to main content Skip to navigation


Summary: This seminar explores one particular, though very important aspect of late medieval religious belief and practice: the importance of the social memory (commemoration) of the dead, and the significance of the doctrine of Purgatory. We will examine divergent historical interpretations of the meanings of post-mortem commemoration, and whether the ‘cult’ of Purgatory was a source of stability or instability for late medieval Catholicism.

Seminar and essay questions:

a) ‘A cult of the living in the service of the dead.’ How adequate is this as a description of late medieval Catholicism?

b) Was pre-Reformation piety based upon fear of post-mortem punishment?


E Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, ch 10

P Marshall, Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England (2002), ch. 1

--------------, ‘Fear, purgatory and polemic in Reformation England’, in W. Naphy and P. Roberts (eds) Fear in Early Modern Society (1997), and reprinted in Marshall, Religious Identities in Henry VIII’s England (2006)

AG Dickens, The English Reformation (2nd ed), ch 2

RN Swanson, Church and Society in Late Medieval England, ch 6

A Kreider, English Chantries: The Road to Dissolution (1979), chs 1-3

C Burgess, ‘Purgatory and Pious Motive in Late Medieval England’ in S Wright (ed), Parish, Church and People

------------, ‘‘For the Increase of Divine Service’: Chantries in the Parish in Late Medieval Bristol’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History (1985)

-----------, ‘Wills and Pious Provision in Late Medieval Bristol’, English Historical Review (1987)

-----------, ‘“Longing to be Prayed for”: Death and Commemoration in an English Parish in the Later Middle Ages’, in B Gordon and P Marshall (eds), The Place of the Dead: Death and Remembrance in Late medieval and Early Modern Europe (2000)

B Kümin, The Shaping of a Community, ch 4 (fraternities and chantries)

V Bainbridge, ‘The Medieval Way of Death: Commemoration and the Afterlife in Pre-Reformation Cambridgeshire’ in M Wilks (ed) Prophecy and Eschatology, Studies in Church History Subsidia 10 (1994) (b) - appears also as ch 4 of Bainbridge’s Gilds in the Medieval Countryside.