Pardons and purgatory

In medieval usage, an indulgence (or ‘pardon’) was a way to reduce the amount of punishment the soul had to undergo for sins after death, in the process of purification known as ‘purgatory’. It could be granted to a loved one or relative after death, in memory of the deceased: the recipient of an indulgence had to perform an action to receive it, whether the saying of a prayer, or a pilgrimage to a holy site, or the performance of a charitable action. In this Book of Hours of Sarum Use, printed in France (probably Paris) in 1532, is contained a pardon authorized by Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84): ‘Our holy father Sixtus the .iiii. pope hath graunted to all them that deuoutly say thys prayer before the ymage of our lady in the sonne .xi. thousande yeres of pardon.’ While this length of time of remission may seem outlandishly precise now, it was not uncommon. The pardon has been defaced post-Reformation, with the word ‘pope’ receiving a double cross of erasure for good measure. BC

Horae (Sarum Use) ([Paris?, 1532]).

CUL: Rit.d.353.1, sig. F5v

Further Reading

R.N. Swanson, Indulgences in Late Medieval England: Passports to Paradise? (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 113-19.

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