Inside the magnificent Gothic cathedral of Strasbourg, the multicolored stained-glass windows portray a macabre menagerie of strange and sinister demonic denizens of Hell, revealing the terrors that haunted the medieval mind in centuries past.
Look closely at this religious artwork and you’ll spot demons dancing from men’s mouths, trying to corrupt and tempt saints, or presiding over the burning of “sinners” in hellfire as they look on and leer. Many of these demonic entities look distinctly like the orcs of The Lord of the Rings; others look much more like whimsical creations of Dr. Zeuss. One of the demons in particular bears a striking resemblance to a beast from Maurice Sendak’s fantastical book, Where the Wild Things Are.
The reason for portraying these nightmarish creatures alongside the images of suffering sinners, pious priests, and stoic saints was likely to terrify the people in the church congregation. These colorful windows would have essentially been used as an artistic complement to the priests’ sermons, to paint a fearful picture of the torments of Hell. In the 14th century, this was just one of many methods authorities believed was conducive to producing “Good Christians.”
This was a time when horrors such as famine, the deadly Black Death, “Saint Anthony’s fire,” warfare that often lasted centuries, and the show-trials and burning of “witches” plagued the Franco-German region of Europe. These hardships were commonly attributed to the supernatural, and as such, the belief in the existence of such nightmarish demonic beings as depicted in the stained-glass windows of Strasbourg Cathedral was widespread.