Les Enluminures

7. Office of the Dead

Last Rites

Among the most common illustrations for the Office of the Dead--the Last Judgment, Raising of Lazarus, Parable of Dives and Lazarus, Three Living and Three Dead, Job on the Dung heap, and Death Personified--the most fascinating are those illustrating the medieval funeral. The various stages of the medieval rituals surrounding death and burial can be found illustrated in Books of Hours. Assembled as a series, they allow the events to unfold scene by scene, in an almost cinematic manner.

The ideal Christian death took place at home, with the dying person in bed, surrounded by loved ones, and, most important, receiving the Last Rites. Upon entering the house, the priest would bless the sick person with holy water and commence to pray; after death, the deceased--a woman here, her eyes closed in death--was blessed again.

This miniature marks the beginning of the Commendatio animae (Recommendation of the Departing Soul to God), prayers recited at the deathbed. The Commendatio, when present, is usually appended to the end of the Office of the Dead; it was especially popular in the fifteenth century in Books of Hours made in England or for English use.