Masses and feast days in the Morte Darthur.


Masses and feast day celebrations played major roles in the spiritual lives of medieval Christians. This study argues that they were similarly important in the lives of the Round Table knights that populate Malory’s Morte Darthur. Masses and feast days help to structure both the work and the Round Table community, just as fifteenth-century masses and feast days ordered the year and the local community. By understanding fifteenth-century customs surrounding, and beliefs about, masses and feast days, today’s readers can better appreciate the role of faith in the lives of Round Table knights. They can also understand more completely the ways in which the Morte Darthur invites readers to reflect on important themes when it incorporates references to fifteenth-century Christian practice.

I argue that Malory’s depiction of the mass affirms chivalry as essentially a Christian enterprise, blessed by and glorifying to God. Through depictions of mass attendance and participation, Malory delineates a spiritual hierarchy virtually identical to the chivalric hierarchy of the Morte Darthur. Then, through feast days, he invites readers to recognize how the members of a chivalric community and aspects of chivalric life embody Christian virtues and values. Through Christmas Day references, Malory invites readers to see how Arthur imitates Christ in bringing justice and peace to his realm. Through Pentecost, he invites them to recognize chivalry as a kind of service to God and community. Finally, through Marian feasts, he invites them to see, in a limited way, how love ennobles. By presenting this vision of chivalric Christianity, Malory adds his voice to those of many other medieval Christians who saw, or wished to see, spiritual value in the chivalric activities that they enjoyed participating in or reading about. While, for some medieval Christians, chivalry might have been unrelated or even antithetical to Christianity, Malory’s Morte Darthur presents faith as an inseparable component of chivalric life.



Le Morte Darthur. Sir Thomas Malory. Christianity. Mass. Feast days.