Books and Ephemera on Death and Funeral Customs
is a Latin phrase that means ‘Remember that you will die’ and it is meant to serve as a reminder that we all shall pass from this plane. A commonly accepted story of the origin of the phrase claims that a slave was commanded to sing “Memento Mori” as he paraded behind his master, a triumphant war hero returning to Rome, to remind him that even though one may be strong, man’s time on earth is ultimately finite.
The phrase and concept caught on with the growth of Christianity and spread throughout the world. There are chapels in Rome, Portugal, and the Czech Republic that have chandeliers, towers, sculpture and even walls made from or inlaid with hundreds of thousands of human bones. There are many ornate tombs covered in laughing skeletons and angels alike, artwork depicting the danse macabre – the dancing death – taking away poor and rich alike, and later on, complicated clocks and watches decorated with reminders that your final second is ever just around the bend.
The Victorian era was rife with dramatic funerary customs, many modeled after Queen Victoria’s intense and life-long mourning of her beloved husband, Prince Albert. It was common to clip locks of hair from the head of a deceased loved one to keep as a physical reminder of them. Some women even wove the hair into a fine mesh and made jewelry from it, or tucked it into lockets. Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes were growing more popular and many photographers specialized in post-mortem photography. Those pictures were then inserted into cards, lockets, or handmade frames crafted by the grieving women of the family who weren’t allowed to do much else during their restrictive mourning period.
We’ve found a few amazing historically significant Memento Mori broadsides spanning the centuries, as well as books, ephemera and some modern writings on the subject. Click through to see!