A Curious Invitation present London Month of the Dead
Rituals of the Corpse
Mortuary Beliefs and Practices in Britain with Sarah Tarlow

Sunday 9th October 2022 at 1:30 pm

What did people in the past really believe about death and the dead body? In early modern Britain and Ireland, the answer to that question depended on the context: if you were talking about anatomy you would say something different to what you might say if you were speaking about religion. And neither of those things necessarily lined up with what people actually did in their ordinary lives, or the folkloric beliefs to which they also subscribed.

In this talk, author Sarah Tarlow investigates how belief related to the dead body, focusing on the early modern period of British history. Using sources from archaeology, history, folklore, anatomy and literature, we will examine the treatment of different kinds of dead body: high status ones, criminal ones and ordinary people’s.

Some of the curious stories Sarah will relate include: how could a dead body accuse a murderer? Cure diseases? Focus a meditation on the divine, or demonstrate the social standing of the living? How did politics and the law affect what happened to high profile or controversial individuals? How did the Reformation affect beliefs about the dead, and what were the practical consequences? Lots of questions, some answers, some creepy pictures.

Tickets £12 including a 20% donation toward a host of restoration projects at Kensal Green Cemetery.

Sarah Tarlow
Sarah Tarlow is professor of historical archaeology at the University of Leicester. She specialises in the archaeology of death and burial, the archaeology of the post-medieval period, theory and ethics. She has published numerous specialist books and articles on archaeology, and is the author of The Archaeology of Loss, a memoir, to be published by Picador in spring 2023. She recently finished leading an inter-disciplinary project on what happened to the bodies of executed criminals, funded by the Wellcome Trust, and is now working on the ethics of displaying human remains in museums.

Image credit - Corpses standing against the walls of catacombs. Process print after C. C. Pierce and Co. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark (CC BY 4.0)

Kensal Green Cemetery