Logo Utrecht University

Medieval Memoria Research


30 November 2018
10:30 - 11:30
Utrecht, University Hall

PhD thesis defence Caroline Mudde on the material mourning culture of the Catholic community in the early modern Netherlands

On November 30th Caroline Mudde (Religious Studies) will defend her PhD thesis ‘Mourning in the margins. The material mourning culture of the Catholic community in the early modern Netherlands’.

This study investigates early modern Catholic mourning culture in the Dutch Republic (1588-1795) and further developments in the period towards the restoration of episcopal hierarchy in 1853. Starting point in this investigation is materiality and the role objects played in the practice concerning death and remembrance. For Catholics prayer for the dead has always been an important aspect of the mourning tradition. Praying on the graves was encouraged by the clergy with the aim of both preparing one’s own death and intercession for the souls of the deceased. The practice of praying on the graves was thus connecting the generations and the ban on doing so in churches and on graveyards in the Dutch Republic must deeply have divided the community.

Translocating remembrance to the private setting

As a result of the Reformation and the desecration of churches and graveyards, Catholics and Protestants came to be buried side by side in public space without the opportunity to re-consecrate the grounds or to pray for their loved ones at the funeral. Dutch Catholics came to an alternative Catholic ritual at the deathbed for which special ‘beaardingsdoosjes’ (tiny boxes for consecrated soil ) were in use. It appears that for Catholics a disconnection took place between the place of interment and the place of prayer and remembrance. Being no longer allowed to pray for the souls of the dead in public, and as burial sites were always public areas in the Netherlands, Catholics translocated their remembrance to the private setting of their homes or ‘huiskerken’ (house churches). Several objects, such as commemorative coins and In Memoriam cards dating from the 17th and early 18th century, point to this practice.

Tradition of collective remembrance

Burial practice on former holy grounds showed the ongoing need in the Catholic community for prayer in the presence of the dead body. Part of the tradition was the inscription on slabs of the petition ‘Bid voor de ziel’ (Pray for the soul), but after the Reformation this phrase was applied no longer on the graves in the churches and graveyards. It is interesting to see the petition reappear on Catholic remembrance objects that were at first only used for individual prayer, but later on became part of a new collective remembrance system in the mission stations. Thus these objects can be considered as facilitating an alternative route in which the tradition of collective remembrance could survive.

Mourning objects

Mourning objects functioned on the threshold between private and public environment and sometimes exceeded the margins. By appropriating civil mourning objects Catholics kept in touch with society and at the same time created a way to display their identity. Both lay-men and -women and clergy took advantage of upcoming ideas on individuality for middleclass citizens in the 18th century, which is embodied in personal mourning objects. For the clergy these objects were also carriers of the resentment against the loss of honour in their remembrance, which couldn’t do without explicitly indicating their Catholic identity. They had to wait until the restoration in the 19th century to get compensated for this loss.


Early modern mourning objects show that Catholics used alternative ways of mourning to compensate for restrictions in the Dutch Republic. The traditional mourning culture survived due to the activities of both lay-men and -women and the Dutch Catholic clergy. By connecting with civil mourning practice and creating new, typically Catholic mourning objects, these mourning objects functioned on the border between private and public space. Thus the restrictions on the experience of faith were effectively put on the agenda.