By María Isabel Romero Ruiz
AnMal electrónica, No.17 (2005)
Introduction: Death is something which is hardly spoken about nowadays, and it has become the great taboo of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Death is something we have to live with and something that is certain to happen. However, how did people of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries see death?
From the influence of the Middle Ages and the «Dance of Death» to the analysis of aspects of ritual, funerary monuments, and epitaphs, we shall be looking at how the main object of all these practices was to commemorate, and the stress was put on the individual. Also, the family will become very important and the sense of loss when one of its members disappeared.
The Protestant doctrine will have a great influence on the religious ideas of the time, and the important thing will be to dispose of the dead in a decent manner. Therefore, the dead body will become an element of the utmost importance, since that very same body is the one to be resurrected at the end of time.
We shall be seeing that the early modern period, and especially the years1550-1650, is a time of many changes that will influence the ritual and traditions of later times in relation to death and mourning.
Consequently, the worlds of the living and the dead will never become totally apart, and elements such as the arts of dying, which will proliferate throughout Europe, the vanities, and the consolidation of Protestantism and the influence of Calvin, will lead to a peculiar «English Way of Death».
The process of individualism which started in the late Middle Ages reaches its culmination in the years between 1550 and 1650. Every element of ritual is directed to stress the importance of the individual and his worldly remembrance. This is something that started at the top of the social scale but that extended gradually to the other sections of society.