|Death and burial|
New sources : excavations in the urban cemeteries of Normandy
"I call upon you always to dread the Day of Judgement and every day to have before your eyes the day of your death. Consider the condition in which you are seen in the eyes of Angels" (Sermon from the life of St Eloi, 588-660).
This is a reference to the belief, as much religious as superstitious, that medieval man prepared each day for the ever-closer day of death when he would go to the cemetery to which only Christians were admitted. In the period between the 10th and 12th centuries, this might be a courtyard or even an orchard where the fruit was sold. Surface indication of graves (steles, or crosses, etc...) were rare and the rotation of burials was rapid, especially in an urban setting where space was limited by dwellings. Tradesmen would have set themselves up within its walls and justice was also dispensed there sometimes. For the believer, this was of little importance, only the salvation of their souls mattered; believers knew that their bones would soon join those of other parishioners in the graveyard. The burial of a body was a matter for the living and it was the living who surrounded the dead with symbols, which reflected faith or social standing.
Archaeology has been able to record those practices which allow burials to be dated. Between the 10th and 12th century, inhumation directly in the earth dominated, and the grave was sometimes cut in the shape of the human body. Stone sarcophagi were used once more, and were more massive than those of the 7th to 8th centuries which were also re-used if found nearby. The wooden coffin was still rare and its use did not really develop until the 14th century.
The position of the body in the tomb and in particular that of the hands, the presence of shroud pins, head-rests, and funerary ceramics are also details that have enabled the dating of burials which has hitherto been difficult, unlike those of pre 8th century date, in which there are frequent and well-understood artefacts. The study of parish cemeteries in urban areas has enabled a better understanding of the formation of towns and thus given us a better picture of the customs of its inhabitants.