A Thing of Nightmares?


I’m sorry but I don’t know the meaning of the symbolism here – can you help?

Update – 31 January 2014

I hate to use the now clichéd exclamation ‘Doh!’ ….. but …. DOH!
By putting your left index finger into the left corner of your mouth and your right index finger into the right corner of your mouth, pulling back on both and baring your teeth – and perhaps sticking your tongue out a little, I think you will get some idea what happening here!  I can imagine two cheeky friends putting their tongues out at the passers by and a third bursting through between them with this distorted grimace – what rude chaps! 😉




32 thoughts on “A Thing of Nightmares?

  1. There are a lot of odd representations that look grotesque to our eyes, and are lumped under the heading of Green man… as this probably is. The simple explanation would then be to do with the fertility of the land, rebirth through faith.. echoing spring after winter. There are possibly deeper meanings though, as here the senses all seem to be involved with the vine going to the ears and the tongues hanging out… and could be representative of the bondage of man within the world of the senses, as well as the promise of rebirth.

    Where is it though?!

    • I understand your drift, but in this case I would separate it from the Green Man – Green Man is something I look for in all the churches I visit, only to realise I forgot to look specifically for the Green Man while I was there!

      Of course showing something out of context will confusion. This was one of several effigies, (whose correct name escapes me) with similar and seemingly differing themes. They were in a small church in the village of Kirkingston not far from the A1 in North Yorkshire.

      My own interpretation would be something to do with gossip or hearsay or spreading rumours.

  2. The representations on churches and inside churches in the middle ages were a sort of religious public encyclopedia for the illiterate faithfuls so they could see the story of Christian beliefs and precepts and be guided by them in their lives.
    These gargoyle and monstrous beings on the outside of the churches generally represented the malign demons that would grab the souls of sinners and drag them down to hell. Inside the churches instead there generally were less threatening images. Until the Reformation, the story of Christ, the Virgin, and all the saints, were told in splendor in Catholic churches. These particular image would require the explanations of an art historian and perheps a religious history expert. They may or may not refer to actual characters in the enormous arsenal of demons and horrid spirits populating early Christianity. They are not ONLY symbolic Images of those beings, but were real and actual in the mind of the population and considered present and active in their everyday lives.

    • Indeed, we must remember that the sensibilities of people have changed through the ages, through education, availability of and ability with the written word.
      At the moment, my mind it erring to an interpretation that might have something to with gossip, hearsay or spreading rumours. I know at some times in our past great injustice has been acted on people branded as witches, perhaps as a result of the spread of rumours.

      • You are right great injustices were done, but those were not ‘rumours’ but beliefs, held by everybody as fact and enforced by the religious organizations. I read a lot of history books about the Middle Ages. It was another world altogether, another mind set. Very interesting to investigate. Thank you for letting me say all these things.

      • I would suggest that many of the ‘witches’ that came to the attention of the authorities (UK) were as the result of bad feeling, jealousy, rumour, and hearsay. It would take little effort to whisper into the ear of the village rumour-monger to ensure that it was ‘local knowledge somebody was a witch.- ready for when the ‘witch-finder’ came.
        I have no doubt that belief supported the hunting and execution of witches.

  3. I always used to wonder about the grotesque finials and spouts on old churches, and cathedrals.
    Then I read a very “heavy” book that explained it all. http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781592762279?redirected=true&gclid=CMqZ_63EnLwCFeXKtAodEkgAfQ
    It’s interesting, but best read when you’ve nothing else to do. You get an idea where the author’s going after about 5 minutes, and whilst I agree with his findings it’s a shame he didn’t edit it.

  4. Stephen,
    I believe you are on the right track in interpreting this as a warning against calumny, libel, gossip, and slander. These images are interesting in that they possibly appear to include all members of society: the figure on the left appears to have a bishop’s miter on his head, the image in the middle is not distinguishable, but it may be a reference to the local nobility (the head cap on it appears to have been damaged – if it contained a cross or a stone jewel – it might have been a reference to the crown of political leaders). I cannot make out the cap on the far right figure, but it may be a simple yeoman’s cap, or, it may be the tonsure of hair received by the lower clergy (priests and deacons) and monks. The linkage of what appears to me to be a chain is connected to both mouth and ears, referencing St. Benedict’s and St. Gregory the Great’s warning to keep our mouth pure and our ears from “itching” with gossip!
    Best wishes, your images are always thought provoking!

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