Illustrations of Purgatory and Memento Mori in Antique Requiem Missals

As we continue on in November, the month of the Holy Souls, let's pause and take a look at some of the more unique historical title pages found within the missal of the Requiem Mass. By way of explanation, while the full-fledged edition of the Missale Romanum carries the texts necessary for Mass for the Dead, smaller, thematic missals such as these were created for practical reasons. Frequently these were bound in black, sometimes with memento mori imprinted right into the covers. The title pages of these missals might also carry interesting memento mori, something which can certainly be found between the seventeenth through nineteenth century editions of these missals. Regrettably, in my estimation, by the latter half of the nineteenth century, these would fall by the wayside and be replaced by more typical, cookie cutter illustrations taken from the regular Missale Romanum. Prior to that, however, some very interesting and unique illustrations could be found within these which generally evoked one of two themes: memento mori symbols as reminders of the four last things, or depictions of the holy souls in purgatory.  With that in mind, here are a few examples for your consideration.

This first example shows us the personification of the angel of death in the form of a winged skeleton holding a scythe. It also holds an hour-glass; "tempus fugit." Around the angel of death are found strewn various symbols of power and wealth, both secular and ecclesiastical, ranging from crowns, mitres and the papal tiara, to a large palazzo in behind shown with its tower crumbling down to the ground. The lesson here? Death comes for all and worldly power and wealth are fleeting.

Many of these missals simply include skulls and cross bones. For these we will simply show them without further comment. Their function as memento mori is clear enough. 

This next depiction is rather curious. We find a man emerging from a coffin, around him and behind can be seen skeletal remains. A woman stands to the right. The symbolism is not entirely clear; it perhaps shows Adam and Eve by whom death was introduced to the world. 

This next title page is rather self-referential insofar as it is showing us an image of the catafalque that is traditionally used within the liturgical rites for the dead.

Another interesting depiction can be found below showing, once again, death personified, this time without the angel's wings. It holds within its hands the scythe and winged hourglass once again and at its feet are found various musical instruments and weapons -- more depictions of temporal pursuits. Behind is shown the All Seeing Eye of God and Christ carrying the Cross. 

A closer detail which also shows better the Latin text stating that all men are destined to die:

As mentioned before, images of the holy souls in purgatory are also frequent themes in these missals, as in the case of this example. 

Here is the same engraved image, but flipped the other direction by the publisher:

This next engraving shows us skulls and crossbones set in front of a funerary monument. On it, incense burns and beneath the text, "eternal rest."

Once again we find here below yet another variant on the angel of death theme. This time our winged, hour glass holding friend is surrounded by different worldly spoils shown derelict and falling apart. 

Not from the Requiem missal, but rather the Office for the Dead, we find here an image which combines themes of memento mori as well as purgatorial:

Another curious one in which we find a skeleton between a man on crutches and a woman. The symbols of temporal power at the skeleton's feet are typical enough, but the skeleton appears to pull the man and woman along with it -- no doubt symbolizing their date with their own mortality. 

The final engraving I will leave you with is a detail taken from another title illustration. It shows the holy souls being cleansed in the purgatorial fires, while an angel pours upon them the cooling, healing waters of grace. 

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