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The idea is plausible: Because so many medieval children died young – half didn’t make it to age 5 – parents did not become attached to their babies. In modern parlance, it’s a defense mechanism.

After all, this was an age of war and brutal justice. It just makes sense that medieval parents would hold off on affection until they could be more certain their child was going to live, right?

Not exactly. Paul the Deacon’s 783 epitaph for Charlemagne’s 40-day-old daughter Hildegard tells a different story: “Dear little maiden, you leave no little grief/Stabbing your father’s heart with a dagger.”

Medieval parents might have accepted the likelihood of burying at least one child, and it’s easy to imagine everyone knew someone who had lost a child. That sad reality might have made grieving parents feel less isolated.

But the epitaph proves that in the Dark Ages parents loved their kids, and even if the infant was baptized and the parents were certain they would see the child in paradise, death was as painful for them as it would be for us.

Baptism

A 16th century image of a baby being baptized after he was born of a dead mother (provided by Wolfgang Sauber GFDL via Wikimedia Commons).

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