Really loyal readers may recall my post last November about the Fair Rosamund, a Plantagenet Paelex, on whose grave was carved, allegedly by S Hugh (Bishop of Lincoln 1186-1200), the elegiac distich:
Hic iacet in tumba rosa mundi non rosa munda/ Nec redolet sed olet quod redolere solet.
Videlicet, she was a 'lady' who smelt lovely while she lived, but whose body, when her tomb was opened, "stanke so that the kyng, ne non other, might stond to se that oryble sight". (The king was Henry II, regnabat 1154-1189.)
These same two lines still appear on the tomb of a French canon in South West France, who died in 1334. His name was not even Rosamund! There must be other examples ...?
I was reminded of this trope on the festival (November 26) of S Silvester the Abbot. He died in 1267. His Breviary readings relate that, seeing the 'deforme cadaver' of a relative, he observed Ego sum quod hic fuit; quod hic est ego ero. [I am what he was; what he is, I shall be.] This became a medieval commonplace.
Apparently, it was in the 1430s that the efflorescence began of the Memento mori custom; carving beneath the memorial effigy of some notable person, a sculpture of their decaying corpse ... often, worms and all.
Today, Ash Wednesday, we hear the words Memento homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.
I wonder if anybody has ever published research on the medieval homiletic use of the realities of corporal decomposition. What were its social or literary sources? Is there a significant timeline?
Footnote (1): The Ordinariate Missal omits the word homo. Sad! When administering this rite, saying these words again and again over so many different types of humans, I used to feel quite moved by the repeated, solemn assertion of our commom and shared, humanity, with its common human destiny in Death. Why should feminism have been able to rob us of this sentiment?
Footnote (2): Does anybody know when use of the formula Memento homo ... (cf Genesis 3:19) starts or becomes general? We know, of course, that fixing the first day of Lent on the Wednesday after Quinquagesima happened quite late. There are first-millenium associations between penitential systems and ashes, but 'Wednesday Ashes' appear not to have been used at Rome before circa 1090-1140 (although outside Rome itself ... for example at Eynsham near Oxford ... things appear to have happened earlier). And I am uncertain whether one ought to be alive to possible distinctions between Distributing, Sprinkling, and Imposing.