Written about 1350 in the North of England the Pricke of Conscience must have been one of the most popular literary texts of the time, as it has come down to us in 117 manuscripts, and even a translation into Latin. The text is very often ascribed to Richard Rolle of Hampole, a prolific 14th-century mystic, but modern scholarship does not count the poem among his works any longer.
The poem comprises about 10,000 lines set into four-stressed rhyming couplets and is divided into seven parts and a prologue. It deals with the miserable state of mankind, worldly life, death, Purgatory, Doomsday, the torments of hell and the joys of heaven.
According to its obvious devotional and admonitory intention the arguments are presented in the typically medieval way of legitimizing the deplorable state of man in this world by pre-configured schemes of religious doctrine drawn from a great number of orthodox sources such as Pope Innocnet III's De Contemptu Mundi, the De Proprietatibus Rerum of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, which was translated into English by John of Trevisa, and many other texts.
The text may not appear to be alluring to modern readers at the first glance, but it obviously represents an impressive answer to the urging demands for spiritual guidelines in the second half of the 14th century in the face of catastophies and social unrest.