Memorial system

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The term memorial being (from the Latin memoria "memory") describes the ritual remembrance of the dead and belongs in various forms to the cult of the dead in human societies. In a narrower sense, one means commemoration of the dead since ancient times. In the Middle Ages, foundations were an important feature of the memorial system.

Memorial research is now an integral part of medieval studies . According to Otto Gerhard Oexle , who introduced the term memoria to research, a distinction must be made between the religious, social and historiographical dimensions of remembrance, which, however, overlap and permeate each other in many ways.

The memorial system in the Middle Ages

Religious meaning

The determining factor for the medieval memorial system (or memoria for short) that emerged in the 5th century was the Christian understanding of death. For the Christian , death was and is not the end of life. He expected to be resurrected on the last day and to receive eternal salvation. Until that day, the memory of the deceased should be preserved so that they may share with the living in salvation.

In the 5th century this role was assigned to the wife of the deceased, the vidua ("widow"). However, she only had to take care of her husband's memoria. If she died, the husband's only dead memory, which had been assigned as a task, was extinguished. Relatives could do memorial service, but they were not obliged to do so.

The Christian memorial system thus differed fundamentally from that of Roman antiquity . In the context of the Roman religion , the pater familias was the head of the family and was solely responsible for the memory of all ancestors. In order to be able to continue the remembrance here for all eternity, the institution of the Pater familias was designed in such a way that a continuous succession of those responsible for the remembrance of the dead was guaranteed through adoption.

To ensure this continuity of the memorial service, which was canceled with the ban on pagan cults in 392, Catholic Christianity assigned a large part of the associated duties to church institutions: monasteries, clergy or parishes. The living person was responsible for the obligation of a person or institution.

With the evolving idea of purgatory , another aspect was added, which was particularly important from the late Middle Ages: gifts and gifts to the church and the foundation of masses and memorial services could lessen otherworldly punishments and shorten the time in purgatory. The naming of the names of the donors during the prayer of the mass ( memento ) made them participants in the Eucharist, who took part in the healing fruits of the celebration. The memory of the dead thus became both a provision for the hereafter and a good deed in this world. The community of the living and the dead, the accompanying visualization of the dead, the mutual services rendered - on the one hand by the good deeds of the deceased during their lifetime, on the other hand by the fulfillment of memorial services by the living - and the safeguarding of the future memorial service were central aspects of the memorial system . On the part of research, this is seen as an expression of the medieval principle do ut des , “I give so that you give”.

Since people in the Middle Ages had to take care of their own memorials during their lifetime, memorials were of great importance in everyday life. The memory of prayer could be brought about through gifts, alms , one-time gifts or permanent foundations such as the monasteries of important noble families, through which the recipients, often monasteries, were obliged to remember. In many cases, foundations within the framework of the memorial system formed the income of the clergy and the economic basis of the monastic communities. This also includes the remembrance meal , a custom practiced under the term caritas , in which the founder of an annual meal or drink was commemorated with a prayer.

The growing number of memorable names led to them being recorded. The names of people and groups of people were initially recorded in diptychs and later in memorial books. In the later Middle Ages, when the number of names had grown so much that not every name could be read out, the memorial book was placed on the altar .

At the same time a development towards a more individualized form of memory began. In addition to the fraternization books , there were now necrologists arranged according to calendar , on the basis of which the dead could be commemorated on the day of their death. The will of the Essen abbess Theophanu , dated around 1050 , in which she regulated her memorial service in detail, is based on an individualized memorial idea.

In the course of the late Middle Ages , more and more people donated so-called seasons or anniversaries for themselves and their relatives, so that every year on the anniversary of their death they would ask for their salvation. The names and foundations of the deceased were now recorded in anniversaries or year books , which, like the older necrologists, were organized according to calendar, but offered more space for more detailed entries on the donated goods and were therefore no longer only of liturgical importance, but also as an overview the income of the ecclesiastical institution concerned served. From the 15th century at the latest, such records were no longer only kept in monasteries and foundations , but also in most parish churches and other spiritual institutions such as hospitals .

Social importance

Excerpt from the necrology of the Möllenbeck Monastery (13th and 14th centuries)

In the context of the corporate society of the Middle Ages, memorial practice was of great social importance. With the endeavor to remind posterity of the mutual obligation to pray through images, names or other identifying elements (e.g. coat of arms), the need for social representation of the individual or gender is usually connected . They belonged to the central media through which class and gender affiliation were communicated. Just as the member of a class expressed this social position through a proper burial and a proper memoria, it was also possible to communicate advancement pretensions through particularly elaborate practices. Important noble, but also patrician families often founded their own burial churches, in the case of the high nobility sometimes even entire monasteries (e.g. the Altzella monastery as the burial place of the Wettins ).

In some cases, memorial practices have also been used to communicate political ideas. After the "Great Shift" of 1374 , the city of Braunschweig was ordered to build the council chapel dedicated to St. Auctor as an atonement to the Hanseatic League . In it a sacred means of legitimation of the councilor was combined with the intercession for the eight councilors who died during the shift, whose coats of arms adorned the chapel.

Memoria was also a function of many medieval communities such as unions , brotherhoods, and guilds . Not only did they ensure a proper burial, but they also required their members to intercede. Monastery communities also entered into prayer fraternities with other communities, for the fulfillment of which commemorative lists ( Totenroteln ) were exchanged and deceased confreres, and in some cases their relatives, were included in necrologists. Care for the memoria was an element of the self- image of the clergy as oratores , as the state of worshipers.

Historiographic importance

Name entries of King Heinrich I and his family from 929 in the Reichenau fraternity book. In the second column on the right under Heinricus rex is his wife Mathild [a] reg [ina], then her eldest son Otto I, already with the title of king (Otto rex).

Material sources of memorial practice include buildings or parts of buildings as well as all forms of church inventory, e.g. B. Altars, church windows, burial places, memorial pictures, jewels or priestly regalia, including numerous art treasures such as the Otto Mathilden Cross from the Essen Cathedral Treasury . The memorial system has also left behind a multitude of written sources called diptychs, memorials, fraternization books, necrologists, dead reds, anniversar or year books. Individual legacies in connection with the obligation to remember the prayer are also recorded in wills and deeds of gift as well as in city and court book entries.

Beyond their religious, mentality and art-historical value, conclusions can often be drawn about family relationships, social networks and other historical processes from the sources of medieval memorials. However, the evaluation is often challenging, especially with sources from the Middle Ages. One of the most important results of memorial research is the analysis of Henry I's style of rule , which was derived from the connection between chronical tradition and memorial practice. The first mention of his son Otto the Great as co-king can be found in a list of fraternities of the Reichenau monastery .

For the late Middle Ages , memorial sources are important with regard to the state , regional and city ​​history . They allow conclusions to be drawn about the fraternity and other founding communities, but can also be evaluated for economic and social-historical issues. The monastic Rotesroteln retain a supraregional importance as a medium of communication within monastic orders for the educational, literary and monastic history. Slaughter seasons and other memorial days also offer valuable insights into the historical awareness of the time .


  • Gerd Althoff , Joachim Wollasch : Will the Libri Memoriales remain silent? A reply to H. Hoffmann. In: German Archive for Research into the Middle Ages . Volume 56, 2000, pp. 33-54. (Digitized version)
  • Rainer Berndt (Ed.): Against forgetting, for salvation. Memoria and remembrance of the dead in the Middle Ages. (= Erudiri Sapientia. 9). Aschendorff, Münster 2013, ISBN 978-3-402-10436-1 .
  • Michael Borgolte, Cosimo Damiano Fonseca, Hubert Houben (eds.): Memoria. Remembering and forgetting in the culture of the Middle Ages. (= Yearbook of the Italian-German historical institute in Trient. Contributions. Volume 15). Bologna / Berlin 2005, ISBN 88-15-10662-6 .
  • Dieter Geuenich , Otto Gerhard Oexle (Ed.): Memoria in the society of the Middle Ages (= publications of the Max Planck Institute for History. Volume 111). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1994, ISBN 3-525-35648-X .
  • Caroline Horch: The memorial idea and the spectrum of its functions in the visual arts of the Middle Ages. Langewiesche, Königstein i. Ts. 2001, ISBN 3-7845-7550-1 (also: Nijmegen, Kath. Univ., Diss., 2001).
  • Rainer Hugener: Bookkeeping for eternity. Remembrance of the dead, written down and tradition formation in the late Middle Ages. Chronos, Zurich 2014, ISBN 978-3-0340-1196-9 . (PDF)
  • Jens Lieven, Michael Schlagheck, Barbara Welzel: Networks of the Memoria. Essen 2013, ISBN 978-3-8375-0813-0 .
  • Tanja Michalsky : Memoria and Representation. The tombs of the Anjou royal family in Italy (= publications by the Max Planck Institute for History. Volume 157). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2000, ISBN 3-525-35473-8 (also: Munich, University, dissertation, 1995).
  • Otto Gerhard Oexle: Memoria in society and in the culture of the Middle Ages. In: Joachim Heinzle (Hrsg.): Modernes Mittelalter. New pictures of a popular era. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / Leipzig 1994, ISBN 3-458-16616-5 , pp. 297–323.
  • Karl Schmid , Joachim Wollasch (ed.): Memoria. The historical testimony of liturgical remembrance in the Middle Ages (= Münstersche Medieval Writings. Volume 48). Fink, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-7705-2231-1 .
  • Karl Schmid, Joachim Wollasch: The community of the living and the deceased. In: Early Medieval Studies . Volume 1, 1967, pp. 365-405.
  • Gabriela Signori : High medieval memorial practices in late medieval reform monasteries. In: German Archive for Research into the Middle Ages. 60, 2004, pp. 517-547. (on-line)
  • Rolf de Weijert, Kim Ragetli, Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld, Jeannette van Arenthals (eds.): Living memoria. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Memorial Culture in Honor of Truus van Bueren. (= Middeleeuwse Studies en Bronnen. Vol. 137). Verloren, Hilversum (NL) 2011, ISBN 978-90-8704-272-1 (With contributions (in German) by Thomas Schilp, Otto Gerhard Oexle , and others).

Web links

Wiktionary: Remembrance of the dead  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Otto Gerhard Oexle: "Memoria, Memorial tradition." In: Lexikon des Mittelalters 6 (1993), Sp. 510-513.
  2. Bernhard Jussen : Legacy and Relatives. Cultures of Transmission in the Middle Ages. In: Bernhard Jussen, Stefan Willer, Sigrid Weigel (eds.): Erbe. Transmission concepts between nature and culture (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft. Stw. 2052). Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-518-29652-3 , pp. 37–64, here: pp. 54–56 (online)
  3. Bernhard Jussen: Legacy and Relatives. Cultures of Transmission in the Middle Ages. In: Bernhard Jussen, Stefan Willer, Sigrid Weigel (eds.): Erbe. Transmission concepts between nature and culture (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft. Stw. 2052). Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2013, pp. 37–64, here: p. 55.
  4. Bernhard Jussen: Legacy and Relatives. Cultures of Transmission in the Middle Ages. In: Bernhard Jussen, Stefan Willer, Sigrid Weigel (eds.): Erbe. Transmission concepts between nature and culture (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft. Stw. 2052). Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2013, pp. 37–64, here: pp. 56 f.
  5. Otto Gerhard Oexle: The presence of the dead. In: Herman Braet, Werner Verbeke (Ed.): Death in the Middle Ages. Leuven 1983, pp. 19-77, here: pp. 29 f.
  6. Rainer Hugener: accounting for eternity. Remembrance of the dead, written down and tradition formation in the late Middle Ages. Zurich 2014, esp. Pp. 30–33.
  7. Cf. Uwe Heckert: The council chapel as the center of bourgeois rule and piety. Structure, iconography and function. In: sheets for German national history . 129, 1993, pp. 139-164, here: pp. 142ff. (Digitized version)