For Prayers and Pedagogy

Contextualising English Carved Cadaver Monuments of the Late-Medieval Social and Religious Elite


  • Christina Welch University of Winchester



death, England, post-mortem sentience, purgatory, transi tombs


This short article contextualizes a subset of Northern European cadaver monuments of the late- Medieval/early-Modern era, known as transi imagery. It explores 37 English carved cadaver monuments (ECCMs) dating from between c. 1425 to 1558. By examining vernacular theology, perceptions of purgatory, and understandings of the body post-mortem, it supports current scholarly writing that these ECCMs were pedagogical in nature, prompting prayers from the living to comfort the deceased in purgatory. However, it controversially argues that ECCMs additionally provided a visual reminder to the living that purgatorial suffering was not just spiritual, but also physical during the wet stage of death (the period before the corpse became skeletal). Further, by drawing on fieldwork, this article provides the first comprehensive guide to the carved cadaver monuments that can be found in England.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Christina Welch, University of Winchester

Dr Christina Welch is a senior lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Winchester. She leads a Masters Degree in Death, Religion and Culture and runs a series of day conferences on this topic. Much of her research centres around religion and visual culture.


Aberth, J. 2001. From the Brink of the Apocalypse. New York: Routledge.

Aquinas, T. 2008 [1920]. “Suffrage for the Dead,” Summa Theologica online edition (last accessed 15 April, 2013).

Borges, V. 2003. “Conservation of an English Cadaver Tomb,” V&A Conservation, 45, (last accessed 15 April, 2013).

Bredero, A. H. 1986. Christendom and Christianity in the Middle Ages. Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans.

Bynum, C. W. 1995. The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christinity, 200-1336. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bynum, C. W. 1998. “Death and Resurrection in the Middle Ages: Some Modern Implications,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 142.4, 589–96.

Caciola, N. 1996. “Wraiths, Revenants and Ritual in Medieval Culture,” Past & Present, 152.1, 3–45.

Cardwell, E. 1830. Documentary Annals of the Reformed Church of England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, K. 1973. Metamorphosis of a Death Symbol: The Transi Tomb in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. California: University Press.

Cross, C. 2013. “Participants in the Pilgrimage of Grace (act. 1536–1537),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press (last accessed 15 April, 2013).

Duffy, E. 1992. Stripping the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gill. S. 2010. “Managing Change in the English Reformation: The 1548 Dissolution of the Chantries and Clergy of the Midlands Country Surveys.” University of Birmingham PhD thesis. (accessed 15 April, 2013).

Goodall, J. A. A. 2001. God’s House at Ewelme: Devotion and Architecture at a Fifteenth-century Almshouse. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Goodland, K. 2005. Female Mourning in Medieval and Renaissance English Drama: From the Raising of Lazarus to King Lear. Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate.

Groebner, V. 2009. Defaced: The Visual Culture of Violence in the Late Middle Ages. New York: Zone Books.

Hadley, D. M. 2001. Death in Medieval England. Stroud: Tempus.

Heath, P. 1969. The English Parish Clergy on the Eve of the Reformation. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Hertz, R. 2004. “A Contribution to the Study of the Collective Representation of Death,” in A. C. G. M. Robben, ed., Death, Mourning and Burial: A Cross-Cultural Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 197–212.

Hutton, R. 1994. The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700. Oxford: Open University Press.

Jayne, S. 1956. Catalogue of the English Renaissance. Berkley: University of California Press.

Jones, W. R. 1973. “Lollards and Images: The Defence of Religious Arts in Later Medieval Europe,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 34.11, 27–50.

Kirsch, J. P. 2010. “Pope Formosus,” (last accessed 15 April, 13).

Le Goff, J. 1981. The Birth of Purgatory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lepine, D. 2010. “ ‘High Solemn Ceremonies’; The Funerary Practice of the Late Medieval English Higher Clergy,” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 61.1, 18–39.

Litten, J. 1991. The English Way of Death: The Common Funeral since 1450. London: Robert Hale.

Marshall, P. 2005. Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England. Oxford: Open University Press.

Morton, W. 2009. “St Mary’s Church, Worsborough,” (last accessed 15 April, 2013).

Morton, W. u.d. “Worsborough,” (last accessed 15 April, 2013).

Muldner, G., and M. P. Richards. 2005. “Fast or Feast: Reconstructing Diet in Later Medieval England by Stable isotope Analysis,” Journal of Archaeological Science, 32, 39–48.

Mursell, G. 2001. English Spirituality: From the Earliest Time to 1700. London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Nunn, H. M. 2005. Staging Anatomies: Dissection and Spectacle in Early Stuart Tragedy. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Oldridge, D. 2005. Strange Histories: The Trial of the Pig, the Walking Dead, and Other Matters. Bodmin: MPG Books.

Olson, T. 2006. “The Medieval Blood Sanction and the Divine Beneficence of Pain: 1100-1450,” Journal of Religion and Law, 22.1, 63–129.

Oosterwijk, S. 2004. “Of Corpses, Constables and Kings: The Danse Macabre in Late- Medieval and Renaissance Culture,” Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 157, 61–90.

Oosterwijk, S. 2005. “Food for Worms – Food for Thought,” Church Monuments, 20, 40–80.

Oosterwijk, S. 2006. “Kadavers, wormen, padden en dubbeldekkers Transi-monumenten in Noord-Europa.” Madoc. Jaargang, (last accessed 15 April, 2013).

Park, K. 1994. “The Criminal and the Saintly Body: Autopsy and Dissection in Renaissance Italy’,” Renaissance Quarterly, 47.1, 1–33.

Pugh, R. B., and E. Crittall. 1956. “The Cathedral of Salisbury: From the Reformation to the Restoration,” in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (1956), 183–97. (last accessed 15 April, 2013).

Quigley, C. 1996. The Corpse: A History. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. Risden, E. L. 2010. “ ‘A Revelation of Purgatory’ and Chaucer’s The Prioress,” in Fifteenth Century Studies, 35. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 105–11.

Shaffern, R. W. 1992. “Learned Discussions of Indulgences for the Dead in the Middle Ages,” Church History, 61, 367–81.

Simpson, J. 2003. “Repentant Soul or Walking Corpse? Debatable Apparitions in Medieval England.” Folklore, 114.3, 389–402.

Waterman, D. M. 1970. “Somerset and Other Foreign Building Stone in Medieval Ireland, c1175-1400,” Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 33, 63–75.



How to Cite

Welch, C. (2013). For Prayers and Pedagogy: Contextualising English Carved Cadaver Monuments of the Late-Medieval Social and Religious Elite. Fieldwork in Religion, 8(2), 133–155.