First Advisor

Corinne Wieben

Second Advisor

Kristin Bovaird-Abbo

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type


Date Created



Prior to The Divine Comedy (1308-1321), ideas about Purgatory were in the early stages of development. Purgatory had loose rituals surrounding its existence and it lacked depiction in written works. Yet in the following centuries, the fear of Purgatory and the practices of penance and indulgences reached a fever pitch, ultimately leading to the Protestant Reformation. Purgatory as a celestial location, and not just the “purgatorial fires” of the Bible, only began to develop in the twelfth century, but its fearful description and imagery in The Divine Comedy not only solidified previously nebulous understandings of Purgatory, but also increased anxiety about the afterlife among medieval Christians. Because of this level of influence, this thesis argues that The Divine Comedy transcends its typical literary classification as an epic poem and is, instead, a work of medieval Christian mythology. Shifts in Christian ideology and rituals in the centuries following its publication suggest that the Comedy established new ideas about Purgatory that were accepted by the Church, illustrating the Comedy’s reflection of its culture’s values and its reinforcement of those values through the prescription of ritual–two important markers of a mythological work. This thesis examines ecclesiastical documents from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries to place The Divine Comedy within its historical context and assess the degree to which it reflects the medieval Christian culture in which it developed, contributes original images and ideology to its mythological canon, reinforces cultural values through the prescription of ritual, and transcends popular culture.

Abstract Format



Catholic Studies | Christianity | Cultural History | European History | History of Christianity | History of Religion | Intellectual History | Italian Literature | Medieval History | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


Dante; Purgatory; Medieval; Divine; Comedy; Mythology; Christianity; Italy; Rome; Church; Catholic; Intellectual




76 pages

Rights Statement

Copyright is held by the author