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Death was a constant in medieval life. Modern society often insulates us from the reality of death, placing it behind closed doors in hospitals and funeral homes, but for the average person in period, death was a commonplace, even familiar occurrence. Even laying aside the violence of the medieval age, the lack of medical knowledge and sanitation often meant that disease was rampant.

Personification of Death

Because of the constant threat of death, Death itself became personified in the literature and arts of the day. Death was often depicted as a skeleton, robed in black and carrying a scythe or a sword -- the Grim Reaper still familiar today. A related image was a skeleton clothed in rich robes wearing a crown -- Death as ruler of all things.

Death imagery in art often became very common during outbreaks of plague. The pandemic plague which struck Europe in the mid-14th century was called the Black Death.