Si Vero Mulier Gravi Infirmitate: Churching and Childbirth

  • Paula M. Rieder
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The liturgical ritual at the parish church celebrated the recovery and return to regular routine of women whose experience of childbirth left them in relatively good health. In this sense, the parish ritual assumed a normal birth and marked the end of the process of childbirth that began when the mother went into labor. Indeed, one important way to understand churching is to locate it within the broader context of childbirth.1 This chapter does that by considering the events and customs that surrounded childbearing in the Middle Ages. But childbearing could be deadly and even women who survived the process could suffer damage to their health. The ritual of churching for a woman too ill to attend the public event was an adaptation designed to address this reality by allowing purification to take place in the mother’s home. This private ritual, like the one intended for celebration in the parish church, expressed multiple meanings, including the idea of healing.


Twelfth Century Holy Water Parish Church Parish Priest Birthing Room 
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© Paula M. Rieder 2006

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  • Paula M. Rieder

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