Death in the Middle Ages, between the extreme feelings of terror and the cessation of suffering, found in this Arte de bien morir (Art of Dying Well) its representation and an enormously popular manual to confront it. The book offers a direct look at that crude instant of death where life plays its final card and the bet, all or nothing, is eternity for the fortunate or unending fire for the damned. The pages of this book provide a very precise strategy against those final demons of temptation —each one of which had its own distinctive evil characteristics— that both the moribund and their companions had to follow without vacillation.
It was so difficult to achieve a «good death» that even the best prepared individual feared the encounter with the harsh spiritual crisis of the throes of death where all could be lost with even the slightest stumble. Thus two things were necessary: good company and the Arte de bien morir.
This Art of Dying Well had no pretense of being a theologically profound work. Its formulation of questions and answers was offered as a ritual of salvation that at the same time forced an intense introspection. And the contemplation of the spectacular engravings that accompany the text, with their mixture of angels and demons and the struggle between good and evil, had to be capable of substituting for a reading of the printed word for those who were illiterate or disabled, so that they too could democratically take advantage of the teachings of the manual.
Francisco Gago-Jover has edited the text of the incunabula published in Zaragoza by Pablo Hururs between 1479 and 1484, with an erudite introduction and critical notes. The edition includes an illuminating contrast between the xilographic engravings with those of the editio princeps of the Ars moriendi (c. 1450). The interested reader can download here the pages of the original Zaragoza text that include the engravings.