Oct 31, 2022 • 7M

Visions of Purgatory and the Mouth of Hell: Ælfgif-whooo Halloween Special

Ælfgif-who? Exclusive post number 14

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Florence H R Scott
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Visions of Purgatory and the Mouth of Hell

In the eighth century, the historian Bede recorded an account of a Northumbrian man called Dryhthelm, who died and came back to life. While Dryhthelm was dead, he visited a terrifying and gruesome place, and when he woke up he recounted what he had seen in the afterlife. He had been taken by a celestial guide and shown purgatory, the mouth of hell, and a vision of heaven, where he was not permitted to enter.

The part of this story that recounts what Dryhthelm saw in purgatory makes for some frightening reading. This story is absolutely fundamental to understanding developments in Christian theology in the eighth century, when purgatory became cemented in the medieval imagination as a waiting room of horrors. The purpose of tales like these was to remind God-fearing Christians that there is no automatic guarantee of an entry into heaven.

I will now recount this chilling scene, which has been edited and abridged:

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