A world of darkness and silence (Dennis Aubrey)


It was a world of darkness and silence. When the sun set, the only light would be that of the moon and stars. All activity ceased, therefore, when the sun’s last rays disappeared. With the cessation of man-made activity came a silence so profound that it was tangible, broken only by the occasional cry of an animal or a bird, the rustling of an animal in the forest, another animal in a pen.

Two Devils Fighting, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In such a time, eternity had a terrible and foreboding meaning to those who considered it. A world of perpetual darkness was palpable to those who spent half their life in the shadow of that darkness. In that silence there was a certainty that the soul’s salvation depended on each person’s ability to survive the temptations and manipulations of Satan and his demons.

Fol Dives, Eglise Saint Pierre des Tours, Aulnay-de-Saintonge (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Redemption was possible only because of the sacrifice of the son of the very God who exacted such a stern and unforgiving price. The only path to salvation was to accept the gift of the sacrifice, which meant accepting the covenant offered by God – the covenant of accepting his law unconditionally.

Église Notre-Dame de Saint-Saturnin, Saint Saturnin (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

To reject that sacrifice – to turn down that gift – meant damnation; an eternity of darkness, pain and suffering. Hell was real and every person imagined that unholy place in the silence of the medieval night. The price of rejection was shown on every church wall.

Torments of Hell, Tympanum, Basilique Sainte Foy, Conques (Aveyron) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This covenant of salvation could be read in stone on those church walls and pondered in the endless hours of darkness – ultimate sacrifice, redemption, damnation, sin, demons, angels, and the finality of the judgment. And in these hours men and women discovered the first stirrings of their souls, that part of them that might live forever.

Tympanum, Église Saint Pierre de Carennac, Carennac (Lot) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

8 responses to “A world of darkness and silence (Dennis Aubrey)

    • Stephen, it was a different world then, as you well know. I don’t think the masons would necessarily have a problem, but I think the powers that command would. In the medieval times they also had erotic and profane sculptures mixed in with the religious. The north tympanum of Cahors takes your breath away with some of the absolutely vulgar and debauched carvings. I personally believe that the Festival of Fools mentality carried over into the stone of these churches.

  1. These images are helpful to me. I’ve just translated a scene that resembles, in words, your image of the torments of hell.
    It’s a great thing you’re doing, Dennis, telling us all about these sculptural details and their meanings.

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