ⓘ Mos Teutonicus

Mos Teutonicus

ⓘ Mos Teutonicus

Mos Teutonicus was a postmortem funerary custom used in Europe in the Middle Ages as a means of transporting, and solemnly disposing of, the bodies of high status individuals. The process involved the removal of the flesh from the body, so that the bones of the deceased could be transported hygienically from distant lands back home.


1. Background

During the Second Crusade for the Holy Land it was not thought fit for aristocrats who fell in battle, or died of natural causes, to be buried away from their homeland in Muslim territory. The transportation of the whole body back from foreign parts over long distances was impractical and unhygienic due to decomposition, which was often accelerated by the climate.

German aristocrats were particularly concerned that burial should not take place in the Holy Land, but rather on home soil. The Florentine chronicler Boncompagno was the first to connect the procedure specifically with German aristocrats, and coins the phrase mos Teutonicus, meaning the Germanic custom.’

English and French aristocrats generally preferred embalming to mos Teutonicus, involving the burial of the entrails and heart in a separate location from the corpse. One of the advantages of mos Teutonicus was that it was relatively economical in comparison with embalming, and was more hygienic.

Corpse preservation was very popular in mediaeval society. The decaying body was seen as a representative of something sinful and evil. Embalming and mos Teutonicus, along with tomb effigies, were a way of giving the corpse an illusion of stasis and removed the uneasy image of putrification and decay.

In 1270, the body of King Louis IX, who died in Tunis, which was Muslim territory, was subject to the process of mos Teutonicus for its transportation back to France.


2. Process

The process of mos Teutonicus began with the cadaver being dismembered to facilitate the next stage in the process, in which the body parts were boiled in water or wine for several hours. The boiling had the effect of separating the flesh from the bone. Any residual was scraped from the bones, leaving a completely clean skeleton. Both the flesh and internal organs could be buried immediately, or preserved with salt in the same manner as animal meat. The bones, and any preserved flesh, would then be transported back to the deceaseds home for ceremonial interment.

Mediaeval society generally regarded entrails as ignoble and there was no great solemnity attached to their disposal, especially among German aristocrats.


3. Prohibition of the practice

Although the Church had a high regard for the practice, Pope Boniface VIII was known to have an especial repugnance of mos Teutonicus because of his ideal of bodily integrity. In his bull of 1300, De Sepulturis, Boniface forbade the practice. The papal bull issued which banned this practice was often misinterpreted as prohibition against human dissection. This may have hindered anatomical research, if anatomists feared repercussions and punishment as a result of medical autopsies, but De Sepulturis only prohibited the act of mos Teutonicus, not dissection in general and medieval physicians were known to have widely practiced dissection and autopsy, though most had an assistant perform the actual incisions and manipulations of cadavers.

  • reception at his court. Wolfger performed the German funeral custom, Mos Teutonicus on him before bringing him back. He was then interred next to his father
  • territory where he died, his body was subject to the process known as mos Teutonicus a postmortem funerary custom used in medieval Europe whereby the flesh

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