Fetal and Infant Burial in the Italian Middle Ages: Between Text and Practice




Crow, Madison

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The burial of unbaptized fetuses and infants, as seen in 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 young children especially vulnerable to dying unbaptized and being denied a Christian burial in consecrated grounds. Texts reveal that in addition to utilizing the accepted, orthodox measures of appealing for divine help, laypeople turned to folk religion. Furthermore, the laity occasionally violated canon law when struggling or deceased fetuses and infants were in danger of being buried in unhallowed ground apart from the Christian community. The archaeological literature confirms that parental concern often clashed with ecclesiastical burial regulations. As a result, the remains of unbaptized children have been discovered in consecrated ground in religiously symbolic placements. Ultimately, the textual and archaeological records of fetal and infant burial in medieval Italy serves as a material legacy for how laypeople interpreted and reacted to the Church's theology and regulation of baptism and burial.