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AfterlivesThe Return of the Dead in the Middle Ages$
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Nancy Mandeville Caciola

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781501702617

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501702617.001.0001

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Flesh and Bone

Flesh and Bone

The Semiotics of Mortality

(p.206) Chapter 5 Flesh and Bone

Nancy Mandeville Caciola

Cornell University Press

This chapter demonstrates how revenancy functioned within medieval popular culture and explores some of the different interpretations of life and death that were attached to revenant stories. It reveals several important patterns, such as the importance of remaining flesh on the bone to postmortem vitality and the significance of a “bad death” as a predictor for postmortem return. It analyzes a number of images that present visual evidence for understanding the contours of revenant beliefs. The mixture of revenant stories and Christian beliefs through time engendered parallel sets of discourses about how to understand reports about the returned dead: interpretations of reports about revenants varied by social strata and educational level. The chapter focuses on the ways in which originally pagan traditions about the unquiet dead functioned within northern European popular culture in a fully Christian context.

Keywords:   revenancy, medieval popular culture, life, death, postmortem vitality, bad death, postmortem return, Christianity, paganism

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