Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/460

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
444
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

In the cathedrals, too, we still see this idea fossilized. Devils and imps, struck into stone, clamber upon towers, prowl under cornices, peer out from bosses of foliage, perch upon capitals, nestle under benches, flame in windows. Above the great main entrance, the most common of all representations still shows Satan and his imps scowling, jeering, grinning, while taking possession of the souls of men and scourging them with serpents, or driving them with tridents, or dragging them with chains, into the flaming mouth of hell. Even in the most hidden and sacred places of the mediæval cathedral we still find representations of Satanic power in which profanity and obscenity run riot. In these representations the painter and glass-stainer vied with the sculptor. Among the early paintings on canvas a well-known example represents the devil in the shape of a dragon, perched near the head of a dying man, eager to seize his soul as it issues from his mouth, and only kept off by the efforts of the attendant priest. Typical are the colossal portrait of Satan, and a vivid picture of the devils cast out of the possessed and entering into the swine, as shown in the cathedral-windows of Strasburg. So, too, in the windows of Chartres Cathedral we see a saint healing a lunatic—the saint, with a long devil-scaring formula in Latin issuing from his mouth; and the lunatic, with a little detestable hobgoblin, horned, hoofed, and tailed, issuing from his mouth. These examples are but typical of myriads in cathedrals and abbeys and parish churches throughout Europe; and all served to impress upon the popular mind a horror of everything called diabolic, and a hatred of those charged with it. These sermons in stones preceded the printed book; they were a sculptured edition of the Bible, which preceded the pictorial editions of Luther's printed Bible.[1]

Satan and his imps were among the principal personages in every popular drama, and "Hell's Mouth" was a piece of stage scenery constantly brought into requisition. A miracle-play, without a full display of the diabolic element in it, would have stood a fair chance of being pelted from the stage.[2]

  1. I cite these instances out of a vast number which I have personally noted in visits to various cathedrals. For striking examples of mediæval grotesques, see Wright's "History of Caricature and the Grotesque," London, 1875; Langlais's "Stalles de la Cathédrale de Rouen," 1838; Champfleury's "Les Sculptures Grotesques et Symboliques," Rouen, 1879; Viollet le Duc, "Dictionnaire de l'Architecture"; Gailhabaud, "Sur l'Architecture," etc.
  2. See Wright, "History of Caricature and the Grotesque"; F. J. Moue, "Schauspiele des Mittelalters," Carlsruhe, 1846; Dr. Karl Hase, "Miracle Plays and Sacred Dramas," Boston, 1880 (translation from the German). Examples of the miracle-plays may be found in Mone; in Mariott's "Collection of English Miracle-Plays," Basil, 1838; in Hone's "Ancient Mysteries"; in T. Sharp's "Dissertation on the Pageants ... anciently performed at Coventry," Coventry, 1828; in the publications of the Shakespearean and other societies. See especially the "Harrowing of Hell," a miracle-play, edited from the original now in the British Museum, by T. O. Halliwell, London, 1840. One of the items still preserved is a