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Article

Doctrinal and Physical Marginality in Christian Death: The Burial of Unbaptized Infants in Medieval Italy

by 1, 2,3 and 3,4,*
1
Department of History, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557, USA
2
Department of Anthropology, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76706, USA
3
Honors College, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76706, USA
4
Department of History, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76706, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 1 November 2020 / Revised: 4 December 2020 / Accepted: 14 December 2020 / Published: 17 December 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Death in the Margins)
The burial of unbaptized fetuses and infants, as seen through texts and archaeology, exposes friction between the institutional Church and medieval Italy’s laity. The Church’s theology of Original Sin, baptism, and salvation left the youngest children especially vulnerable to dying unbaptized and subsequently being denied a Christian burial in consecrated grounds. We here present textual and archaeological evidence from medieval Italy regarding the tensions between canon law and parental concern for the eternal salvation of their infants’ souls. We begin with an analysis of medieval texts from Italy. These reveal that, in addition to utilizing orthodox measures of appealing for divine help through the saints, laypeople of the Middle Ages turned to folk religion and midwifery practices such as “life testing” of unresponsive infants using water or other liquids. Although emergency baptism was promoted by the Church, the laity may have occasionally violated canon law by performing emergency baptism on stillborn infants. Textual documents also record medieval people struggling with where to bury their deceased infants, as per their ambiguous baptismal status within the Church community. We then present archaeological evidence from medieval sites in central and northern Italy, confirming that familial concern for the inclusion of infants in Christian cemeteries sometimes clashed with ecclesiastical burial regulations. As a result, the remains of unbaptized fetuses and infants have been discovered in consecrated ground. The textual and archaeological records of fetal and infant burial in medieval Italy serve as a material legacy of how laypeople interpreted and sometimes contravened the Church’s marginalizing theology and efforts to regulate the baptism and burial of the very young. View Full-Text
Keywords: medieval Italy; fetus and infant burials; archaeology; San Giuliano; medieval mortuary practices medieval Italy; fetus and infant burials; archaeology; San Giuliano; medieval mortuary practices
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MDPI and ACS Style

Crow, M.; Zori, C.; Zori, D. Doctrinal and Physical Marginality in Christian Death: The Burial of Unbaptized Infants in Medieval Italy. Religions 2020, 11, 678. https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/rel11120678

AMA Style

Crow M, Zori C, Zori D. Doctrinal and Physical Marginality in Christian Death: The Burial of Unbaptized Infants in Medieval Italy. Religions. 2020; 11(12):678. https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/rel11120678

Chicago/Turabian Style

Crow, Madison, Colleen Zori, and Davide Zori. 2020. "Doctrinal and Physical Marginality in Christian Death: The Burial of Unbaptized Infants in Medieval Italy" Religions 11, no. 12: 678. https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/rel11120678

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