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The Office of the Dead was significant to Christian conceptions of death, burial rituals, and the afterlife in the Middle Ages. The specific Office of the Dead manuscript in this collection was commissioned by Johannes Ehrlich of Andernach, archbishop of Trier, for the church of St. Kunibert, Cologne, in 1487. The manuscript was likely kept in the St. Kunibert church and used by the clergy. It includes prayers that mention the patron of the church, St. Kunibert. Sections of the Office of the Dead would be read aloud at a person’s deathbed and during the sacrament of Extreme Unction. Offices of the Dead (which typically made up their own manuscripts but were sometimes contained within Books of Hours) guided worshippers in commemorating and praying for the dead. These books often contain the Psalms, chants, music, and prayers said during funeral rituals (and on certain specified days after the death). These books were not only recited during communal rituals, however; they were often read by individual members of a religious community, who routinely practiced some of these rites daily. The Office of the Dead was also read to commemorate the anniversaries of the deaths of community members and loved ones.

In the Middle Ages, praying for the dead and remembering their souls was one of the most important duties of clerics. Medieval Christians held that when a person died, their soul went to either Heaven or Hell; however, before ascending to Heaven, souls would have to first spend time in Purgatory, an intermediary station in the afterlife where souls would undergo spiritual purification. Praying for these souls was understood to shorten the time they had to spend in Purgatory and facilitate a swift ascent to Paradise; thus, it was essential for both clerics and laymen to pray for the deceased.

There is an abundance of physical evidence that shows how people of the past dealt with the mystery of death and the afterlife. During the Middle Ages, burying the deceased person and the process of grieving were significant and highly ritualized processes. Early medieval funeral customs in northern Europe originated from the cultures of peoples such as the Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavian Vikings. The Anglo-Saxons have provided historians with interesting archaeological records of early medieval burials, as they sent their dead into the afterlife with tokens that the person might have needed, known as grave goods. These grave goods included jewelry, money, or weapons such as swords. Some graves also contained the remains of horses and applicable tack or equipment. 

Christianity changed some of the original European burial traditions. However, some pagan traditions were kept: for example, newly deceased people continued to be sent to their final resting place with some sort of token for the afterlife in many European communities well into the Middle Ages. Christianity also brought changes to burial locations: medieval Christians buried their dead inside cathedral catacombs, floors, and among the gallery, as well as in churchyards, field cemeteries, or sites where executions were held. The place where a person was buried indicated who said person was, their social standing, as well as their family’s religious affiliation.  

Medieval Christian funerals started with the body being washed and shrouded; it would then remain in the home of the deceased for a few days before being brought to the church. The body would have been surrounded by candles, and (beginning in the late Middle Ages) the area around the body would have been cloaked by a black cloth. This was not a formal viewing but rather a way to demonstrate to the community that the person was truly dead. During this time, at least one Mass was said for the person’s soul, some donations were made to the church (which were meant to shorten the deceased's time in Purgatory), and prayers were said for the dead. These prayers were to continue afterward to commemorate the death; they were to be recited on specific days following the death, such as the one-month and one-year anniversaries. Bells would sometimes be rung to commemorate later anniversaries of the death.

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