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Purgatory-Society: Purgatory Societies or Purgatorial Societies are Roman Catholic Church groups who claim to help the souls of the dead as they transcend from their human form into Heaven. The state of purgatory describes the process by which a soul is temporarily held in between the mortal world and the world of salvation or Heaven while God passes his final judgments. The Purgatory society members would perform acts and prayers that were said to help assist these souls in Purgatory to prepare and pass final judgment before passing into Heaven. For centuries this practice of praying for souls in purgatory was considered commonplace, and originally only high member of the church were allowed membership into the society, but around 1400 more laymen (Kings, Princes, benefactors etc) were allowed membership in the group. The new members of the Societies brought with them new uses for the Societies particularly regarding the potential profitability of the Group and how these profits could benefit the church.

Once the societies became more organized and further influenced by secular members, the profitability of these groups became readily apparent as priests would convince members of the societies that they should pay a certain amount to the church when a person died as a gesture to help their soul escape purgatory. The corruption of these religious societies began in the early fourteenth century when church officials asked that every member give one penny to the church in order to commemorate the life and help the soul of a famous businessman who had died. Contributions to the church eventually included all sorts of gifts and monetary fees from members of the societies who wished to assist a loved one’s soul out of Purgatory. The societies had millions of members because they included both living and dead people as well as friends who would all send in their names and all make the annual payment. The controversy around these groups arose in (1) their growing emphasis on material decadence, (2) the church’s use of the monies and items collected from the Society members, (3) and doubts about whether theu supports a religious cause or merely runs an under-handed fund raiser for the church and its clergy.

In “Sign of the Times,” Carlyle makes reference to the Purgatory Society as a prime example of how the mechanizing of society affects even social and religious institutions. Carlyle argues throughout his essay that all attempts to organize and add structure to human interest and education mechanizes the human race. He uses the example of Penny-a-week Purgatory- ociety to support his claim that even in something as pure as religion, or as good natured as caring for deceased loved ones, can become structured and mechanized within our society. His essay directly criticizes the loss in morality that occurs with mechanizing society, and by citing this as well as other religious examples he effectively comments upon the loss of spirituality that comes with industrial change.


“Purgatorical societies” website. 21 March 2010. 23 March 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purgatorial_society

Le Goff, Jaques. The Birth of Purgatory. Chicago: The Chicago Press, 1981. N. pag. Google Book Search. Web. 23 Mar. 2010.

Last modified 24 March 2010