Historian and author Helen Castor, presenter of the popular series She-Wolves, explores how the people of the Middle Ages handled the most fundamental moments of transition in life: birth, marriage and death. In doing so she reveals how people in the medieval world thought and what they believed in. For the people of the Middle Ages the teachings of the Catholic Church shaped thoughts and beliefs across the whole of Western Europe. But by the end of the Middle Ages the Church would find itself in the grip of momentous change and the way of medieval birth, marriage and death would never be quite the same again. Episode One: A Good Birth For a Medieval woman approaching the moment of labour and birth, there were no antiseptics to ward off infection or anaesthetics to deal with pain but there was God. The medieval world understood that the pains of labour were the penalty for the original sin of humankind; so, to get through them, she needed the help of the saints, and the blessing of God himself. As historian Helen Castor reveals in this film this was one of the most dangerous moments a medieval woman would ever encounter and some aristocratic and royal women gave birth as young as 13. Birth took place in an all-female environment and male world of medicine was little help to a woman in confinement. But by the end of the Middle Ages the momentous changes to the religious life of England reached right into the heart of this most domestic and secret of lifeGÇÖs rites and stripped away the comfort that old Church had offered to laboring women. Episode Two: A Good Marriage Unlike birth and death, which are inescapable facts of life, marriage is rite of passage made by choice and in the Middle Ages it wasnGÇÖt just a choice made by bride and groom, they were often the last pieces in a puzzle, put together by their parents, with help from their family and friends, according to rules laid down by the Church. But as historian Helen Castor reveals in the Middle Ages marriage was actually much easier to get into than today - you could get married in a pub or even a hedgerow simply by exchanging words of consent - but from the 12th century onwards the Catholic Church tried to control this conjugal free for all. For the Church marriage was a way to contain the troubling issue of sex but as this episode reveals, it was not easy to impose rules on the most unpredictable human emotions of love and lust. Episode Three: A Good Death Most of the time, we try not to think about death. But the people of the middle ages didnGÇÖt have that luxury. Death was always close at hand, for young and old, rich and poor GÇô even before the horrors of the Black Death, which killed millions in a few short months. But for the people of the Middle Ages death wasnGÇÖt an end but a doorway to everlasting life. The Church taught that an eternity spent in heaven or hell was much more important than this lifeGÇÖs fleeting achievements and there was much you could do to prepare for the next life in this one. As historian Helen Castor reveals how to be remembered - and remembering your loved ones - shaped not only the worship of the people of the middle ages but the very buildings and funding of the medieval Church itself.
Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage and Death
Dr Helen Castor explores major human rites during the Medieval period