Catherine, one of the Rangers, introduced me to her Natural History Shelf – an exquisite, personal collection of nature finds from the estate including wings of barn and tawny owls, a stuffed jay and skulls of water vole, barn owl, tawny owl and what looks like snipe and kestrel. The sight of a stuffed water vole regarding its own skull might seem ghoulish to some but reminds me of the depictions of life and death in Momento Mori and Ars Moriendi that were common in the Medieval period.
Ars Moriendi (‘The Art of Dying’) were illustrated Latin texts offering advice on the protocols and procedures of a good death. They first emerged in the early 1400s and were written in the context of the effects of the Black Death 60 years earlier. The illustrations showed angels and demons gathered around the bed ready to receive the soul after death. This was a graphic reminder of the importance of dying well to ensure a journey onwards to heaven not hell. Similarly Momento Mori, (‘remember you too will die’) were artistic or symbolic reminders of the inevitability of death. One common expression of this in the Medieval period was in cadaver tombs found in churches throughout Europe.As I seem to be on the subject of tombs – I recently came across the stone coffin behind the summerhouse in the garden. The Test Valley Archeological Trust Archeological Recording of Mottisfont (1994/5) describes the stone coffin, found along with other 13th century items, when new drains were laid in 1836.