Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Squatting Demon of Notre Dame

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I don't have much in the way of profound comment on this picture. I'm posting it here because I think it is interesting and fun. It is a picture I took of part of the Last Judgment scene on the main portal of Notre Dame de Paris. It was probably sculpted some time in the first half of the 13th century.

It is a picture of a demon squatting over a bishop and a king. The two earthly worthies are among the damned and this is their fate. The demon, squatting with her hands on her knees, appears to be about to urinate (at least) on their heads as they look up in dismay. It is quite funny actually. It would have originally been painted in bright colors and must have made quite am impression on folk as they entered the cathedral for worship. I imagine commoners got a kick out of seeing the powers-that-be tweaked in this way.

A few thoughts:

1. This counters what I think is probably a common impression that the medieval church was humorless. There is humor here, even at the church's expense.

2. Even as part of this magnificent, inspiring place of worship, humor was considered appropriate including in the awesome and fearful tableau of the Last Judgment.

3. Presumably the bishop had to approve this.

4. Even in the stratified, hierarchical world of the Middle Ages, it was accepted that all were equal in the sight of God and equally subject to divine scrutiny.

5. Bishops and other church officials along with kings and other nobility would have been reminded regularly that their authority was held in trust and subject to judgment.

6. It must have been particularly gratifying for commoners to be reminded that those who lorded it over them in this life would be called to account in the next.

7. Thus, those in power could, in theory anyway, be held accountable in this life.

8. It is no less true today that those who have been entrusted with authority ecclesial or political or otherwise should remember that they are accountable. There is a Judge who judges all. Who knows if that means you might end up with a grotesque, laughing demon squatting over your head. But, I wouldn't take the judgment lightly.

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