Is It Possible To Have A Good Death? Catholic Church Launches New Site, 'The Art Of Dying Well'

An image from the animation on the new website The Art of Dying Well, narrated by the actress Vanessa Redgrave.Austin Temby @

It is, perhaps, the last great taboo in modern society. Thanks to popular views of death from television and elsewhere, people still have a great, often unsaid fear of dying.

Media stories tell us about troublesome deaths, and healthcare is portrayed as the use of modern science to 'fight' death, meaning that a death is often seen as some kind of medical failure.

All this causes many, especially the ill and elderly, to be more afraid of dying.

Now, the Catholic Church in England and Wales is launching a new website aimed at practically and spiritually helping both Catholics and non-Catholics alike grapple with issues around death and dying, and to prepare, ideally, for a "good death".

Packed with resources and personal testimony and input from professionals and experts in palliative care, ethics, chaplaincy and history, 'The Art of Dying Well' is a modern update to the popular fifteenth Century Catholic text Ars Moriendi, or Art of Dying.

Based on the Catholic Church's rich tradition but open to all, the site – launched today, on All Saints Day – features real-life stories about the highs and lows of dealing with the final journey.

Dr Kathryn Mannix, the distinguished consultant in palliative medicine who has contributed to the site and worked with 10,000-15,000 people who are dying, says that contrary to popular myth, people can retain great peace as they approach death. "I knew from my hospice work that most dying people are not depressed, and in my clinic many people have lived to enjoy the last weeks and months of their lives," she says. "It's wonderful to see them regain their enjoyment of life again, when they simply expected to remain miserable until they died."

The site deals with everything from the importance of communicating about dying from the point of views of the dying, loved ones and carers, to what dying is actually like to the spiritual dimension of death and dying.

Austin Temby @

The original Ars Moriendi manuscript was designed to bring Christian comfort and practical guidance to a dying person and his or her family. The Latin texts and illustrations offered advice on the protocols and procedures of a good death, including deathbed etiquette and prayers, as well as the five temptations that a dying person might face and the prescribed antidotes. It illustrated turbulent scenes, such as the devil trying to snare the soul of a dying man and battles raging between the angels and the demons at the deathbed. 

The actress Vanessa Redgrave who voiced the animation for the new website The Art of Dying Well.Reuters

"The Catholic Church has 2000 years' worth of experience of helping people to die in peace and a treasury of resources and reflections on death, dying and eternitythat the Bishops of England and Wales would like to open up to everyone," the Church said.

"The poet WH Auden said that death is 'like the distant roll of thunder at a picnic'. That sums up how many of us think about death. We know it is coming eventually, but we are rather more focused on the here and now. The Art of Dying Well aims to help people keep death in mind, so as to fully embrace life now."

The site – – features the Catholic rites and special prayers for the dying, illustrated in a moving animation narrated by the actress Vanessa Redgrave.

The month of November – known in the Catholic Church as the month of the dead – is dedicated to praying for the dead and is the traditional time to visit the graves of loved ones. Tomorrow is All Souls' Day and Remembrence Day is on Sunday, 13 November.

The Art of Dying Well Instagram account will host a 'Remember Me' virtual memorial wall, inviting people to post pictures and memories of a loved one who has died or is dying. By tagging the Art of Dying Well, the individuals in the photos will then be shared with five convents and abbeys who will pray for them.

Meanwhile, living well, and with eternity in mind is a key theme of the site. Jim, 51, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in October 2012 and spent four months in hospital. He suffered two infections and almost died. He was treated with four cycles of intensive chemotherapy which left him with moderate brain damage that affects his memory and a susceptibility to colds and flu. Yet, he has taken up weight lifting and considers himself fitter than he has ever been. He says the illness "pressed the reset button" on his life.

Sister Anne Donockley, an Augustinian nun from Cumbria, who died of a heart condition in April 2016 said: "On a coffin there are two dates; the date of your birth, the date of your death and there is a little dash in between the two – the hyphen. The most important of those three things on the coffin is actually the hyphen, representing your life between birth and death."

The official launch of the site takes place at a Mass this evening at 5:30pm celebrated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols. You can follow the site's Twitter account @artofdyingwell