Medieval monsters, beasts and devils

When did you last think about death and life after this? Do you think there will be beasts and monsters…?! If you had lived in the middle ages that would have been something completely natural.

Here are lots of photos from old churches in Gotland, Sweden, on the theme angels and devils, good and evil, this life and the life after death.

Devils are weighting the soul, medieval painting Gotland

Above weighting of the soul, below  a painting of our life in between heaven and hell. Where will we go when death comes to collect our soul…?

Painting with heaven and hell, death in the shape of a skeleton, angel and devil
Detail of painting with the devil

Have you done good or bad things in your life? If your soul is to be measured by angels and devils, which side will win…?!

Dragon eating a human, stone sculpture on mediaval church wall

Below a knight has died and a devil-like creature with a head on his stomach collects the soul coming out of the mouth.

Devil takes the soul from a dead knight

Christian church art, paintings and sculptures, from the Middle Ages has always fascinated me. It is filled with life – death, good – evil, angels – devils / monsters, salvation – condemnation, hope – despair, martyrs, horror, beasts, women, man, animals, Christ, Satan, heroic actions and ill beings.

Below the Dome church in Visby with monsters och beasts.

Visby dome rain water monsters in stone

I love the naive, fantastic art style, the bestiary. And the fact that these beasts rest on a very old tradition. We lost contact with it long ago. But the images still speaks to us.

beast monster medieval church wall painting Gotland

In medieval times death was much more a reality to people in the everyday life. Women died when giving birth to children. The black plague terrorized Europe. Many people where poor and died from lack of food. Sickness often lacked a cure, even a normal cold could end up with death. It is no wonder the religious art of the time reflected this reality. You always had to be prepared for life after this!

exira monster medieval painting in a swedish church of a headless man

The man above is headless, he is a monster with the head on his stomach. The text says “Exira”, but I can´t find a referens to that. Do you know anything?

gotland church stone wall art heaven and hell
maybe a bear medieal church painting

Could this be a bear above? And below is “Monstra”, the terrifying man with one big foot! A man from the “monstrous races” living in the “East”. This race had a very big foot which made them very fast! And they could use it as an umbrella! Everyone new this was the truth…

monstra one-legged man church medieval art Gotland Sweden

A dragon or a tiger below?

dragon or lion beast monster medieval gotland church art

There are almost 100 medieval churches on he island Gotland in Sweden, many of them very well preserved and most of them still in use. I love them and their wall art. It is so beautiful, serious, humoristic, calming and at the same time calling for you to reflect on your life…

dragon gotland church art roof painting middle age

You can never relax, there are evil beasts everywhere…

gotland monster painting
monster beast church stone art gotland

Beyond here, there be dragons… Beware! Reflect upon your life!

good and evil, dragon in medieval church art Gotland Sweden
beast gotland

Guess the animals, not so easy! (Sorry for bad photo quality here and there.)

gotland church art beasts baptism funt medieval

I took these photos last summer, on my vacation on Gotland. The weather was rainy, we had a car and time to spare. I grabbed the chance, a map, and told my husband where to drive. (Sometimes he stayed in the car… His interest for medieval church art is not on my level.) I was happy!

Interiör från medeltida gotlandskyrka

Lena Svalfors Hedin
Hi! My name is Lena and I love creative and beautiful things in life. Sometimes it inspires me to photograph and write something about it, hopefully you can enjoy it too. I have previously been freelancing as an illustrator, now I have a day job focused on communication, web development and graphic design for print and web.
Please feel free to leave a comment!



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2 thoughts on “Medieval monsters, beasts and devils”

  1. Lovely pictures, but it is extremely frustrating that there are no indications of where, in what church, they were taken!

    • Hi, I agree! That would have been much better, but at the time I was not so “academic”, just having a lovely summer day, and there are so many churches… These days I try to take a photo also of the church name, to remember it better. Glad you liked the photos!


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