American Death and Burial Custom Derivation from Medieval European Cultures
By J. Mack Welford
The Forum (1992)
Extract: During the Middle Ages burial was either in the ground or in vaults. The body was wrapped in a shroud, knotted at the head and foot. In many cases it was laid directly into the grave, but from an early date stone, wooden, or lead chests were employed. Much importance was attached to the the place of burial. Funeral masses were occasions of great solemnity. In descriptions of Middle Age burial we find the source of several contemporary death and funeral practices. These include the use of a specially prepared burial garment, the use of a casket or coffin to be buried underground to protect the body from the elements of nature. We aslo see the continuance of the ceremonies and particularly the religious rites that had predated the Middle Ages by thousands of years, but these rites have become almost universally Christian/Roman Catholic in nature.
In medieval Britain before the Reformation we find that shrouds were utilized almost universally from the richest to the poorest, although many of the richer classes were buried in elaborate and elegant garments. Even among the poorest class, babies who died before the age of one month were buried in swaddling clothes. The shrouds were usually if linen and wrapped and tied at the top and bottom. For the poor often a sheet from the house supply was utilized in place of a linen shroud, and the body was put into the grave thusly with the body tied inside the sheet. Some brides even included a shroud in their trousseaus. This was also the case for children. This practice was due to the high death rate of both young wives and babies at the time of childbirth.