Maths Bertell

Representation of Poverty in Late Medieval Vernacular Sermons

On December 15, Phd candidate André Ahrling from Mid-Sweden University will present his project on the image of poverty.

“What is poverty? Modern man does not have a coherent view of poverty and neither did Medieval man. Poverty, both for the medieval and modern man, is more than just an aspect of the social world; it is also a symbol, colored by different ideological, religious, ethical and emotional perspectives. But medieval man, in contrast to modern man, viewed poverty as a natural part of the social world they inhabited, as a natural force that could not be eradicated. Nonetheless, medieval man could claim that poverty was an expression of the evils of the world, as an effect of sin, or as the opposite, a holy state which liberated man from the slavery of worldly possession. Furthermore, a poor person could be viewed as “true” pauper or a “false” pauper. The true pauper was a victim of fate that had made them unable to work, and for these wretched souls one should show love and compassion. The false pauper however, able of body and thus fully capable of work, was scorned as a diseased soul, afflicted by the sinful state of idleness.

AlbertusThe borders between these different perceptions constantly shifted with the flow of time and the changing world of the Middle Ages. The friar, the monk, the wage laborer, the beggar, and the infirm represented all in their different form poverty, but in different ways.

My study aims to capture a part of this flow of representations, to penetrate the vernacular sermons of the Scandinavian preachers. These sermons, with their function as medium for the spread of ideals and ideas from the centers of the Christians world out to the peripheries, and as such, functioning as instruments of propaganda for the populace, are the sources form which I will draw these representations. In these frozen moments of time I aim to find how poverty was represented. Which means that I will search for, common attributes, characteristics and other points of similarity, as well as, and equally important, differences and silences, between the different conceptions of poverty concerning different social groups, mentioned in the sermons and in their exempla.”

The seminar will start at 16.00, Swedish time. Send an e-mail to to participate.