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Death in Scotland

Chapters From the Twelfth Century to the Twenty-First


Peter C. Jupp and Hilary J. Grainger

For the past twenty years, Scottish death culture has emerged as a focus of scholars drawn from a wide variety of disciplines. Death comes to us all but too often we treat it as a private or personal matter. The former taboo about death is slowly lifting and contemporary research is playing an increasing part. Accordingly, the fifteen essays gathered in this book probe the multi-facetted role of death in Scottish history and culture. They explore personal fears of death, anxieties about Predestination, prayers for the dead and the appeal of Spiritualism. They analyse the public face of death in law, economics and medicine: changes in capital punishment, funeral poverty, the teaching of anatomy and prevention of stillbirths. Within the worlds of religion and ritual, they consider the making of saints, burial practice following the Scottish Reformation and the tradition of keening within the Gáidhealtachd. With an Introduction by Professor Jane Dawson, these essays by specialists in the field not only highlight the richness of the primary sources for studying death in Scotland but reveal how death studies identify key features of Scottish life and society across ten centuries.

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3 ‘Ubi locum meum elegi’ [where I chose my place]: Noble Burial at the Medieval Cistercian Abbey of Coupar Angus (Victoria Hodgson)


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3 ‘Ubi locum meum elegi’ [where I chose my place]: Noble Burial at the Medieval Cistercian Abbey of Coupar Angus


The monks of Coupar Angus accepted the bodies of the Scottish nobility for burial at the abbey from c.1200 up until the sixteenth century. This was an important intercessory service provided by Cistercian houses, despite the anxiety over lay encroachment evident in official statutes. For the laity, monastic burial established permanent ‘residency’ within sacred space, while acting as a public statement of social status. The details of burial arrangements also reveal more complex priorities, and the processes by which these were satisfied. For the abbey, lay burial helped to establish long-lasting connections with benefactors and their kin. Of particular significance was Coupar’s relationship with the Hay lords of Errol, a family who maintained a mortuary chapel at the abbey. Noble burial practices are examined here within the context of broader trends which typically saw lay preferences move away from monastic interment, revealing significant continuities throughout the medieval period and beyond.


At the heart of medieval religion was the care of the soul and its fate in the afterlife. These beliefs were reflected in the practices which surrounded death. One example of this was the interment of bodies at ecclesiastical sites. For the individual, this established permanent ‘residency’ within sacred space, expressing a desire to be immersed in holy surroundings after death and indicating...

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