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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Purgatory as an idea and, from C12th, as a place imagined alongside Heaven and Hell where souls of sinners would be purged by fire.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flourishing of the idea of Purgatory from C12th, when it was imagined as a place alongside Hell and Heaven in which the souls of sinners would be purged of those sins by fire. In the West, there were new systems put in place to pray for the souls of the dead, on a greater scale, with opportunities to buy pardons to shorten time in Purgatory. The idea was enriched with visions, some religious and some literary; Dante imagined Purgatory as a mountain in the southern hemisphere, others such as Marie de France told of The Legend of the Purgatory of Saint Patrick, in which the entrance was on Station Island in County Donegal. This idea of purification by fire had appalled the Eastern Orthodox Church and was one of the factors in the split from Rome in 1054, but flourished in the West up to the reformations of C16th when it was again particularly divisive.


Laura Ashe
Associate Professor of English and fellow of Worcester College at the University of Oxford

Matthew Treherne
Professor of Italian Literature at the University of Leeds


Helen Foxhall Forbes
Associate Professor of Early Medieval History at Durham University

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

49 minutes

Last on

Thu 25 May 2017 21:30


Laura Ashe at the University of Oxford

Matthew Treherne at the University of Leeds

Helen Foxhall Forbes at Durham University

Heaven, Hell, and Dying Well: Images of Death in the Middle Ages exhibition – The J. Paul Getty Museum

Purgatory – Wikipedia



Dante Alighieri (trans. Robin Kirkpatrick), The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso (Penguin Classics, 2012)

Alan E. Bernstein, Hell and its Rivals: Death and Retribution among Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Early Middle Ages (Cornell University Press, 2017)

Paul Binski, Medieval Death: Ritual and Representation (Cornell University Press, 1996)

Peter Brown, The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity (Harvard University Press, 2015)

Paul Dutton, The Politics of Dreaming in the Carolingian Empire (University of Nebraska Press, 1994)

Robert Easting and Richard Sharpe (eds.), Peter of Cornwall’s Book of Revelations (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2013)

Richard K. Fenn, The Persistence of Purgatory (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Helen Foxhall Forbes, Heaven and Earth in Anglo-Saxon England: Theology and Society in an Age of Faith (Ashgate, 2013)

Eileen Gardiner, Medieval Visions of Heaven and Hell: A Sourcebook (Routledge, 1993)

Peter S. Hawkins, Dante: A Very Brief History (Blackwell, 2006)

Jacques le Goff (trans. Arthur Goldhammer), The Birth of Purgatory (University Of Chicago Press, 1986)

Peter Marshall, Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England (Oxford University Press, 2002)

Vasileios Marinis, Death and the Afterlife in Byzantium: The Fate of the Soul in Theology, Liturgy and Art (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Blackwell Publishing, 2007)

Isobel Moreira, Heaven’s Purge: Purgatory in Late Antiquity (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Alison Morgan, Dante and the Medieval Other World (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Jean-Claude Schmitt (trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan), Ghosts in the Middle Ages: The Living and the Dead in Medieval Society, (University of Chicago Press, 1998)

Caroline Walker Bynum and Paul Freedman (eds.), Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000)

Jerry L. Walls (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology (Oxford University Press, 2008)

Carole G. Zaleski, Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times (Oxford University Press, 1988)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Laura Ashe
Interviewed Guest Matthew Treherne
Interviewed Guest Helen Foxhall Forbes


  • Thu 25 May 2017 09:00
  • Thu 25 May 2017 21:30

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