Judeo-Christian Hell Texts
Below is a preliminary list of hell texts from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Most of them are purely Christian texts, but those with an asterisk are associated with the Jewish traditon as well. More information on these texts will be added.
Before Christian Era to 1000 CE
1000 1500 CE
Before Christian Era to 1000 CE
- *The Apocalypse of Zephaniah (or Apocalypse of Sophonias and possibly comprising the Anonymous Apocalypse), Coptic, 100 BCE c. 70 CE [Bib.]
The Apocalypse of Zephaniah may have been a Jewish text reworked in a Christain context. Zephaniah is taken to see the fate of the souls who, since the Flood, have been taken to Hades immediately after death. Angels are there to beat those guilty of bribery and usury, as well as cathecumens who failed in their calling. The souls are destined to remain there until Judgment Day.
- The Apocalypse of Moses (or the Revelation of Moses, or the Gudulath Moses), Jewish, possibly as early as 1st C. [Bib.]
- The Apocalypse of Peter, Greek/Ethiopic, mid 2nd C. [Bib.]
- The Apocalypse of Ezra [Esdras], Greek, 150850 [Bib.]
- The Apocalypse of Paul, Greek, early 3rd C. [Bib.] (see The Vision of St. Paul)
- The Acts of Thomas, Greek, first half of 3rd C. [Bib.]
- Discourse on Saint Michael the Archangel, by Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria (37884), Coptic, late 4th C. [Bib.]
- The Vision of St. Paul, late 4th C. [Bib.]
The Latin Vision of St. Paul was strongly influenced by Greek ideas of the afterlife, as included in the thirdcentury Greek version of the vision, the Apocalypse of Paul. The starting point of the legend is the raptus of Paul (2 Corinthians 12.15). It was based initially on the apocalypses of Peter, Zephaniah, and Elias, and the Book of Enoch. It dates from the late fourth century. This vision was a popular work with versions in almost every European language, including Italian, Provençal, Old French, Danish, AngloSaxon and Middle English, German and AngloNorman, with earlier versions in Syriac, Coptic and Ethiopic. From the Latin text was made a French version by Adam de Ros and thence translations into various European tongues. There are eleven Latin redactions with over fifty extant mss. Vernacular versions derive mostly from Redaction IV. The work has a great influence of later visions and is often referred to.
The vision begins with the discovery of a sealed lead box under Paul’s house in Tarsus in 388 CE. The box contains the story of Paul being taken up bodily into heaven. An unusual feature of this vision is its opening in which Paul witnesses the sun, moon and stars, sea, waters, and earth, all asking the Lord to let them destroy, in one way or another, the inhabitants of the earth because of their dreadful behavior.
Paul is introduced to the guardian angels who recount the deeds of their charges before God. Then Paul is taken up in the spirit to the Place of the Righteous where he sees the Firmaments and the Powers and the evil and good angels. Paul is also shown what happens when both evil and good souls departs from the body and how their angels present them before God.
Paul witnesses the death of a man, the struggle to take the soul from the body, the judgment of the soul and its condemnation to hell. Paul’s guide is Michael the Archangel, who shows Paul hell, where people are punished according to their sins, then shows him heaven and finally returns him to earth.
In his vision of hell Paul sees the usual range of sinners, and, in addition, unworthy priests, bishops, deacons, and lectors. The punishments in hell generally include immersion in a river of fire up to various parts of the body, but there are also worms and dragons that devour the sinners, and vile pits into which the shiners are thrown. St. Paul witnesses these scenes but does not suffer any pains. This vision results in the Lord granting the souls, at the request of Paul, Michael, and the angels, a day without torments. Such interest in the relief of sinners becomes an increasingly important feature of visions of heaven and hell.
Paul’s vision presents the first instance of the judgment of individual souls at their death. It is also worth noting that the church and the levels of the hierarchy in the church had developed to a point where different classes of male clerics were mentioned in connection with their specific roles and not fulfilling them properly.
- The Vision of Ezra, 4th7th C. [Bib.]
This Latin vision of heaven and hell, with the earliest manuscript dating from the tentheleventh century, is related to the apocalyptic Fourth Book of Ezra and therefore within this genre is closely related to the Visio Pauli. The VE is also related to two later works, the Greek Apocalypsis Esdrae and the Greek Apocalypsis Sedrach. Although the Latin Visio may be a translation, from the Greek, there is some doubt on this point.
Ezra prayed to Christ for a vision of the judgment of sins and was led to the otherworid by seven angels. One angel acts as his guide and shows him the pains of hell, where sinners are punished in flames and by hanging, in pains that are suited to their sins. Ezra prays for the sinners throughout his journey through hell. Hell is rather superficially described in this brief vision, where movements through the hell are described in terms of specifc numbers of steps.
- The Vision of Pachomias, Coptic, 350900 [Bib.] (Bk. 7, ch. 4)
- *The Elijah Fragment, 5th C. [Bib.]
This text survives only as a fragment embedded into the Epistle of Titus or Pseudo-Titus, a Christian Latin text of perhaps the 5th century, which survives in a manuscript from the early Byzantine period (6th–7th century). It principally is concerned with sexual sins, and its principle punishment is hanging, which is carried out on each offending part of the body.
- The Gospel of Bartholomew, Coptic, 5th7th C. [Bib.]
- *The Apocalypse of Baruch, Ethiopic, after 550 [Bib.]
This text is associated with the Falashas, Ethiopian Jews, and is based on or copied from a Christian text, which survives in three manuscripts. It has been dated as late as the 7th century. It shows a knowledge of both the Apocalypse of Paul and the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Mary, although not in the forms in which they have come down to us. Fire is by far the predominant form of punishment with fire filling seas, abysses, pits, cauldrons, and mouths, and with burning thrones, trees, rocks, mountains, ropes, cords, and sand.
- The Vision of Sunniulf, French, 563 [Bib.]
This very brief Latin vision (about 150 words) is included in The History of the Franks (Bk. 4, ch. 33) of Gregory of Tours. He also includes the Vision of Salvius (Bk. 7, ch. 1), a vision of heaven, and the Visions of Chilperic (Bk. 7, ch. 4). Although King Guntramn sees Chilperic being punished in hell, it is not a vision of hell, but a dream focused exclusively on Chilperic, who has his limbs broken before being thrown into a boiling cauldron.
Sunniulf, abbot of the Monastery of Randau in (Jussat) Puyde Dôme, once “ruled his flock by entreaty,” but he has a vision of a river of flame with people immersed to different parts of their bodies. A narrow bridge crosses the river to a great white house, but many fall from the bridge in attempting to cross it. Sunniulf learns that those who are remiss in strictly governing their flock are doomed to fall. This vision causes him to rule his monks with greater severity. This vision can be dated to c. 563, which is the year that Marius Aventicum (Chron.) dates the flood at Taurendunum, which is described by Gregory as occurring at about this same time, but is assigned to 571 by Gregory.
- The Dialogues of Gregory the Great (540604), Italian, 593-594 [Bib.]
These three short visions (The Vision of Peter, The Vision of a Soldier and The Vision of Stephen) are from Bk, 4, ch. 37 of the Dialogues of Pope Gregory I (the Great, 540?604), which were written in 59394 in Latin.
These visions appear amid a discussion of the nature of heaven and hell, and each of them illustrates a different way in which one might be affected by a vision of the otherworld. The first visionary, Peter, dies and sees many torments. He is just about to be cast into them when an angel sends him back to earth. He converts and leads a good life.
The second visionary, Stephen, sees “many, things” in the dungeon of hell, but the judge had wanted another Stephen, so this Stephen gets sent back to earth. His repentance is rather weak, as we learn from what the next visionary saw.
This was a soldier who left his body and saw in the otherworid the steward of the pope’s family bound by a weight of iron because he was a sadist. He also saw the abovementioned Stephen on a bridge being pulled up because of his charity and down because of his impurity. The soldier wakes without knowing what happens to Stephen.
None of these visionaries suffers during his vision, which is generally sent as a warning. Since these are not fully developed visions, but mere glimpses, we have neither a full range of sins covered nor a wide range of punishments; nor is the geography of the otherworld very welldefined. Only the soldier attempts some description of the topography of the otherworld. None of these visionaries is accompanied by a guide, although we do find the visionary meeting nearcontemporaries in the otherworld. The visionaries are average people, neither saints with special authority, nor the religious men who became very popular as visionaries in the later Middle Ages.
Gregory concludes that visions are sometimes for the benefit of those who see them and sometimes for the benefit of those who learn of them. Sometimes those who see these tortures amend their lives and avoid hell. Others, who do not, are tortured all the more.
- The Martyrdom of St Philotheus, Coptic, 7th C. [Bib.]
This work survives in both Georgian and Coptic versions, with the latter including a tour of hell. A mysterious calf, who is about to be worshipped, gores Philotheus’ pagan parents to death. They lie unburied for three days until their son revives them. The Coptic version recounts their otherworld experience, which begin with the appearance of a shape-shifting figure of Death. They encounter the Judge of Truth who metes out punishment ranging from immersion in a river of fire to innumerable punishments in the pit of hell.
- The Vision of Bonellus, Spain, late 7th C. [Bib.]
A brief Latin vision (De Bonello Monacho Cui Revelatlo Inferni Facta Est), of about 700 words, written by Saint Valerius del Bierzo in books 2022 of his Opere.Bonellus, a Spanish monk of the seventh century, tells Valerio directly how an angel brought him up to heaven and showed him a dwelling richly built with gems and pearls. He is promised a place here after he dies, but in the meantime he is brought to hell where devils lead him from precipice to precipice. Here he meets a young boy whom he had known, who intercedes with the devils for Bonellus. He is shown the devil, the pit of hell, and three giants, called bad angels. At a lake of fire, archers shoot arrows at him until he makes the sign of the cross and is rescued from hell, and returned to this world, where he undertakes to lead an exemplary life.
- The Vision of Maximus, Spain, 656 [Bib.]
A Latin vision of heaven and hell, about 800 words long, written by Saint Valerius del Bierzo in a letter to a certain Donadus in 656, and included in Bk. 1719 of his Opere.
Valerio meets Maximus when, as a young man, Valerio visits a church. Maximus is part of the large congregation of monks. He explains to Valerio that an angel of light took him up to heaven and then took him to the horrid and terrible abyss of hell. He explains that he could see very little but could hear the great anguish. Afraid he will fall into the pit of hell, he asks the angel’s help, and the angel asks him whether he would prefer heaven or hell. He predictably answers that he prefers heaven, and the angel promises to bring him back to heaven if he returns to the world and leads a good life. He arrives at his monastery just in time to interrupt his funeral. He then leads a good life and again departs from his body.
- The Vision of Barontus, French, 67879 [Bib.]
The Vision of Barontus (Visio Baronti Monachi Longoretensis) is an eighthcentury Latin prose vision of heaven and hell approximately 4700 words long. The vision itself is dated 25 March 678 or 679, and the author claims to be the visionary in what is one of the more fascinating and dramatic visions of the otherworld.
Barontus, a monk in the monastery of St. Peter at Longoreto (SaintCyran near Bourges), who has repented of his past life and joined a monastery, falls ill. His fellow monks keep watch over him while his soul has left his body. When he finally recovers, he is asked to tell of his vision, which he then proceeds to do, explaining how he was immediately beset by devils who wanted to take him to hell, but he was protected by the angel Raphael who brought him on a journey through heaven where he might be judged before the devils made off with him.
Barontus and Raphael visit four levels of heaven, and Barontus repeatedly meets there people he has known, especially monks from his monastery, while the devils keep up a constant tug-of-war for Barontus. Finally Raphael sends another angel to bring St. Peter to them. Peter arrives and asks the devils what charges they have against this soul, and they charge Barontus with having three wives. Barontus admits to the charge, but the devils had by now become so annoying to everyone that Peter whacks them with his keys and sends them scurrying. He then decides to send Barontus back to earth via hell, so that Barontus can consider reforming his life.
Needing a guide, Frannoaldo is chosen on the condition that Barontus take particular care of this soul’s tomb near the door of their church. They leave heaven with Barontus warned to give a certain sum to the poor and to protect himself with the phrase “Gloria a te, O Dio.” In hell he sees sinners of every kind, all joined together suffering. Although the terrain of hell is not carefully described, the souls that Barontus meets who are suffering in hell are mentioned. Finally Barontus returns to his cell where he speaks with his fellow monks.
The vision closes with a statement by the author, allegedly Barontus, attesting to the veracity of this vision.
- The Vision of the Monk of Bernicia, English, c. 7049 [Bib.]
This vision, of about 400 words, is included in Bk. 5, Ch. 14 of Bede’ s Historia. It follows another vision in ch. 13 of a man of Mercia (Vision of a Thane, 7049 CE), which is not a vision of the otherworld, but more a visitation of devils and angels to the bedside of a suffering sinner.
The Vision of the Monk of Bernicia (between Tyne and Forth, later the northern part of the kingdom of Northumbria), a vision of hell, is rarely discussed among visions of the otherworld. It is, however, a brief vision by a sinner, who sees the places reserved for his punishment after death. As a monk he led a loose and drunken life and did not participate in church services, but, as the text explains, he was kept on at the monastery because he was needed as a skilled smith.
In most of the other visions, with the exception of the “Vision of Stephen” from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, repentence always follows the vision. This sinner, however, does not repent with the knowledge obtained from his vision. He immediately despairs and dies. Bede comments that although this monk’s soul was not saved the story of his vision was instrumental in bringing to repentance many who heard his story, and so Bede has included this vision in his Historia in the hope of extending the beneficial effects of this story of despair even further.
- The Vision of the Monk of Wenlock, by St. Boniface (c. 7325 June 754/5), The Netherlands, 716 [Bib.]
This vision of the otherworld appears in a letter from St. Boniface (Winfrid) to Abbess Eadberga, abbess of Thanet, concerning a monk of the Abbey of Wenlock in Shropshire. Boniface heard this story and then spoke with the visionary himself before writing his letter, which records the vision in about 2500 words.
It begins when the monk is on the point of violent illness. As his spirit is freed from his body, he is guided upward by angels. He describes a marvelous vision of flames, by which he is injured, but healed by an angel. He sees the souls of the newly dead gathered together where angels and devils violently dispute over them. His own sins appear personified before him to attack him, but he is defended by his virtues personified.
This is essentially a vision of a hell of purgation wherein devils and angels contend over the souls of the dead. The landscape is full of pits vomiting flames. Beneath this is a lower hell from which issues the sounds of incredible weeping. The monk describes a bridge over a pitchblack, boiling river. Souls crossing over to paradise may fall from the bridge into the river where they are cleansed before reaching the far shore. He witnesses an attack by devils when they try to kidnap one of the blessed souls, but this soul is saved by angels, and the devils scatter, only to reform and try again to take another soul. He also sees several of his contemporaries and is told to warn one of them to repent.
This vision may have been influenced by the Vision of Paul, in its use of the immersion motif, and by Gregory the Great, in the bridge motif. It makes direct reference to the Vision of Bernoldus and is included in Otloh of Emmeran’s Liber visionum.
- The Vision of Drythelm, by Venerable Bede (673735 c.e.), English, 731 [Bib.]
This vision is included for the date 699 CE in the Chronicle of Roger of Wendover, and according to Vincent of Beauvais’ (d. 1264) Vision of an English Man it occurred in 941. Bede, however, lists it under 696 CE in his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Angiorum (Bk. 5, ch. 12), in about 1600 words, which was written in 731 in England in Latin. Bede’s text is derived from the relatio of Haemgisl.
Drythelm was a good man from Northumbria who became sick and appeared to die, but his soul was led to the otherworid by an anonymous guide with a shining countenance, wearing a bright garment. A limited number of sins are treated here, although both fire and ice are used as punishment. Drythelm is attacked at one point by devils, but he is rescued by his guide. One of the more remarkable features of this vision is Drythelm’s visit to the mouth of hell where he sees globes of fire, containing souls of the dead, rising and falling. Between heaven and hell there is a place where souls not worthy of being immediately admitted to heaven await a favorable judgment. This region is an early precursor of purgatory.
The Vision of the Monk of Melrose by Helinand de Froidmont in his Chronicon is based on Drythelm’s Vision. A version can also be found as vision 20 in the Liber visionum of Otloh of Emmeran.
- The Vision of Furseus, by Venerable Bede (673735 c.e.), English, 731 [Bib.]
This vision (Vita Virtutesque Fursei Abbatis Latiniacensis) apparently occurred in 633, since it is included under that date in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Bk. 3, chap. 19), which was written in 731 in England in Latin. Bede’s version is based on an Latin vita of unknown authorship. The vision is also found independent of HEGA embedded in Furseus’s vita, which consists mostly of his visio. It is about 100 words in length and recalls the Book of Enoch in its fourfold division of hell. Later versions of this vision are included in the Legenda aurea and in Vincent of Beauvais.
Like many visions this one has its origins in Ireland, which is where Furseus comes from. The vision, in this case a series of visions, actually occurs while he is in the province of the East Saxons. Furseus is a holy man who is occupied with preaching the Gospels. Of his three visions, the most significant is the third in which he sees combat among the evil spirits, is accused of evil by devils, is led up high by the three angels where he sees the four fires falsehood, covetousness, discord, and iniquity that will kindle and consume the world.
This is the earliest example of the punishment of a visionary. A devil throws the soul of a sinner at Furseus because he once received a garment from this sinner. Furseus’ shoulder and jaw are burned. When Furseus returns to life he bears the mark of this burn.
- The Vision of an Anglo-Saxon Monk, Anglo/German, shortly after 757 [Bib.]
Fragmentary Latin vision from a collection of letters by Boniface and Lull, bishops of Mainz. In approximately 700 words, this letter records a vision of a place of purgation resembling hell with sinners immersed in fire, plus a vision of three heavens. The vision particularly concerns the punishment of queens Curthburga and Wiala, of King Ethelbald of Mercia (d. 757) and of a certain Count Ceolla Snoding. The vision has close associations with the Apocalypse of Paul, the Vision of Drythelm, and the Vision of the Monk of Wenlock, although much of it remains a mystery because it lacks its opening and some undetermined portion of the text.
- The Greek Apocalypse of Mary, Greek, before 9th C. [Bib.]
- The Voyage of St. Brendan, Irish, as early as 800 [Bib.]
Although Brendan, an Irish saint, lived c. 486577/83, the account of his voyage is from an early tenthcentury narrative based on an eighthcentury legend. The work is entitled Navagatio Brendani. It is a Latin prose work of the ninth century, perhaps as early as 800. The earliest surviving ms is from the tenth century. There is also a Latin verse Navagatio from c. 1100. The Latin prose Navagatio is sometimes conflated with the Vita S. Brendani. The Bollandists did not include a life of Brendan because they considered the whole story too fabulous. There is an AngloNorman verse version by Benedeit or Benoit (11211151), which dates from between 1106 and 1121. There is also an important Old Irish version, and the otherworld plays a much more prominent role in it than in the Latin version. There are also versions, dating mostly from the twelfth century, in English, Middle German, Low German, and Netherlandish.
The legend is based on what apparently are the true voyages of this saint who travelled as far as the Hebrides, Shetlands, Faroes, and Iceland; he may have travelled to the Azores, and some even think as far as Mexico. Brendan takes his journey to the otherworld in the company of seventeen companions who join him in his boat and set off on a sevenyear search for the Land of Promise of the Saints.
He touches on the outskirts of hell, where he sees the forge of Vulcan and meets Judas Iscariot, who is enjoying a brief respite from his horrendous suffering. But all that Brendan sees occurs on the surface of the earth.
- The Vision of a Poor Woman, early 9th C., after 818 [Bib.]
The Visio Cuiusdam Pauperculae Mulieris is a Latin vision of hell. The visionary, simply described as a poor woman, is led through a geographically undistinguished hell by a guide in the habit of a monk. Here she sees Bernard, king of Italy and the nephew of Louis the Pious; Picone, a friend of Charlemagne; and Louis’s first wife Ermengarde, all suffering purgatorial pains, but apparently expecting release. The poor woman also sees Louis’s name on the wall of the earthly paradise, but it has been defaced, as her guide explains, after the assassination of his nephew, Bernard. She is sent back to warn Louis to repent.
- The Vision of Wetti, German, 824 [Bib.]
This Latin vision in prose (length: c. 3500 words) was written by Heito (exabbate Augiensi et Basiliensi exepiscopo) in 824 and then recomposed in verse (length: c. 7000 words) by Walafrid Strabo in 837. This is the first account of a vision in verse. It was influenced by the Vision of Paul, the Apocalypse, and possibly the Vision of Barontus. It mentions the Dialogues of Gregory and its redactor may have known the visions of a Poor Woman and Rothcarius. Wetti is referred to in the Vision of Bernoldus.
Wetti, a monk in the monastery at Reichenau, falls ill on October 30, 824. He tells his vision on November 3 and dies the following day, November 4.
During a first brief vision Wetti speaks with an angel. When this vision ends he asks his brothers to read to him from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great. After the reading he rests himself, and as he lies, as if dead, his soul is led by the angel on a tour of the otherworld. On this journey he sees many who are known to him.
This vision is particularly interested in the sins of the clergy and in sins of a sexual nature. Wetti claims that while the angel, his guide, mentions most sins once, “again and again the angel introduced a discussion of the sin of sodomy... five times and more [he said] that it should be avoided.” At one point, right after mentioning “sodomy” he mentions “the plague” a unique connection in this genre.
- The Vision of Rothcarius, French, early 9th C. [Bib.]
A Merovingian vision associated with the Abbaye de Fleury, also known as the Abbaye de Saint Benoît (Saint Benedict Abbey), at Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, France. A monk of that abbeyn named Rothcharius, while lying sick, is led by an angel to heaven where he sees the Congregation of the Saints gathered together in a marvelous building. Here he meets Charlemagne, then visits two further buildings: the third of which is a place for the punishment of sinners who are immersed in fire and rained upon with hot water. Among those in the third house he meets three of his brethren.
- The Vision of Bernoldus, French, mid-9th
This late ninthcentury Latin vision of hell (in about 1600 words) is attributed to Hincmar (80682), archbishop of Rheims.
After four days lying sick, Bernoldus lay as if dead, but he revived in the middle of the night to tell his vision to a priest. He described how he was led from this world to another where he met several people who were known to him. Each of these individuals or groups asked Bernoldus to help them in their suffering by appealing to their followers to pray and perform charitable works in their names. Among those he meets are forty-one archbishops; and the bishops Ebo, archbishop of Rheims, Leopardus, and Aeneus. He later meets King Charles the Bald, a man named Jesse, and a Count Otharius, who tried to hide from Bernoldus. He helps to ease the pain of each and propel them on to paradise. One of the most interesting features of this vision is the mention of several other visions as precedents for the veracity of this type of story. Mentioned specifically are the Dialogues of Gregory; Bede’s Historia, which includes the visions of Furseus and Drythelm; the letters of Boniface, which includes the Vision of the Monk of Wenlock; and the Vision of Wetti. Bernoldus has an unnamed guide for a brief period. The otherworld landscape is undistinguished, although mixed between places of great beauty and places of putridness. The importance of aiding the dead through alms, prayers and Masses is a primary theme of this vision.
- An Old Irish Homily, Irish, mid-9th C. [Bib.]
- The Vision of Charles the Fat, French, c. 885 [Bib.]
This vision (Visio Karoli Tertii/Crassi) apparently occurred in 885. It is recorded, in about 1500 words, in the Gesta regum anglorum of William of Malmesbury who lived c. 10951143, and is based on Hariulf’s Chronicle, Bk. 3, ch. 21. Twenty mss survive, and reference to it is also made in the Chronicle of Helinand and in Vincent of Beauvais.
The visionary is Charles I, King of Swabia and Holy Roman Emperor. While Charles is resting on his bed a guide comes and leads him through his vision. The guide holds a ball of thread of great brightness made of light a feature unique to this vision. The guide ties it around Charles’ finger, and it not only casts light for their journey, but protects Charles from devils and provides a way by which the guide can lead Charles along. Charles is not punished during his vision.
In the infernal regions Charles meets only acquaintances like the bishops, vassals, princes, and counselors of his father and uncles, as well as his father, uncle, and cousin. All are being or have been punished for either counseling for, or partaking in, war.
The geography of the otherworid is not very clearly distinguished; everything appears to take place on one plain through which Charles passes from those undergoing the worst punishments to those who have already passed beyond punishment.
- *The Testament of Isaac, Arabic, Coptic, 894/5 [Bib.]
- The Vision of St. Ansgar, German, late 9th C. [Bib.]
This vision is part of the life of St. Ansgar, archbishop of Bremen and Hamburg (80165), of which two versions, both in Latin, exist: one in prose by St. Rimbert (d. 888), Ansgar’s successor; and the other in verse by Gualdo (1065), Rimbert’s successor. Rimbert’s version of the vision appears in chapter 3 of his Life of St. Ansgar, of which there are many editions.
The vision occurs on Pentecost when this holy young monk is visited by St. Peter and St. John the Baptist, both of whom he recognizes immediately. He is taken first to the fire of purgatory where, left alone, he suffers for three days. At one point, while undergoing this torment, he loses all memory. He is then rejoined by his guides and led to view from afar the land of the saints before being returned to his life on earth.
- The Vision of Merlino, Irish [Bib.]
This work is undated and only survives in manuscripts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is an Irish vision of a wicked man of Bohemia, Merlino Malignois who listens to a sermon that influences his mind. However, on his way with a comrade to a tryst, they meet a parade of nobles which they join. They proceed with them to the castle of an earl.
When they enter this castle, where they had expected to find delight, they find hell and Merlino’s comrade reveals himself to be the Spirit of Knowledge. This vision, primarily of hell, describes the seven deadly sins as punished in the offending bodily parts. Various animals, such as snakes and adders are part of the tortures, which are quite marvelously described.
For instance, the Lake of Pains is said to be horrible because “one single drop of the water of the lake would destroy all the creatures on the surface of the earth by the bitterness of its chill.” There is ongoing dialogue between Merlino and the spirit on the nature of hell, its punishments, Lucifer, Beelzebub, repentance and mercy. There are very brief glimpses of purgatory and heaven, followed by Merlino’s return to this world and his repentance, upon which he is shown the mercy of God.
Notable features of this work include the naming of ten hells: The lake of death, the land of darkness, lowest hell, the marsh of fire, the land of horror, the unfilled lake, the land of affliction, the dwelling of pains, the fire of poison, and the land of oblivion. In addition to a devil for each hell, Lucifer and Beelzebub each rule over five of these realms. These named hells are frequently found in Hindu and Buddhist texts, but not in Christian texts.
It also has two interesting representations of time, which are similar to representations found in Hindu and Buddhist texts. The first of these is to compare the passage of time to the time it takes to accomplish an impossible, or almost impossible, perhaps Sisyphean, task. In this case, the comparison is made to a little bird who fills her beak with water once a year. Even when she might have emptied the sea, those in hell would not be released.
The second interesting representation of time is in its description of eternity, not as endless time, but as a wheel. In other words, the texts relies on the notion of cyclic time — again quite Hindu and Buddhist — to explain the notion of infinite linear time.
The work is believed to be related to an Irish version of the “Vision of St. Paul.”
- The Vision of Laisrén, Irish, late 8th/early 9th C. [Bib.]
Laisrén (or Laserian) was probably abbot of Lethglenn (Leighlin), Carlow, d. 638. This vision is in Old Irish and a fragment of his visit to hell is all that remains.
At the end of three days’ fast, probably at Cluain Cáin (now Achonry) in Connacht, Laisrén experiences his soul leaving his body and being taken up by two angels. He is brought before a host of angels who are confronted by a host of devils black ones with spears, dark brown ones with darts and shaggy haired ones with javelins. The devils argue that they should have him, but the angels tell them that he is not here to stay, but only so he can warn his friends about the afterlife. An angel, who holds a dialogue with Laisrén, takes him to hell where he sees a pit between two mountains, which they enter and from there proceed to the Mouth of Hell, where he sees the souls of those who will be damned if they don’t repent. He is led on to hell itself, which is a sea of fire with an unspeakable storm and waves. Here souls are pierced through their sinning bodily parts with nails. Here the vision breaks off.
- The Visison of Adamnán, Irish, early 10th C. [Bib.]
A vision of heaven and hell erroneously attributed to Adamnán, abbot of Hy and lona, biographer of St.Columba. Middle Irish. Part One (sections 120) dates from the eleventh century; Part Two (sections 2130) from early tenth. The work appears in two famous Irish manuscripts, both in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin: The Book of the Dun Cow and The Speckled Book, and two other manuscripts. This work, which is approximately 500 words long, shows the influence of the Seven Heavens Apocryphon, the Vision of Paul, and the writings of Gregory the Great.
On the feast of John the Baptist, Adamnán is said to be conveyed to the otherworld, where his guardian angel leads him first on a tour of heaven, of the Land of the Saints and then on a tour of hell. There is also a city inhabited by those not yet ready for the heavenly city. This city has six doors where all are confronted on their way to heaven, and some are forced to remain for periods of time to be prepared for the heavenly city. This is obviously a prototype of Christian purgatory.
Finally, the unworthy souls are sent to hell into the hand of Lucifer. There are several different types of punishment, for a variety of sinners, including those who abused their religious office, but, in general, there is a wide array of sinners whose sins are not particularly described. There is a fiery wall beyond the land of torment, where only devils now dwell, but that will be opened to all after the Day of Judgment. Adamnán is led back to heaven and is prepared to remain, but is sent back to earth to tell both laymen and religious what he has seen.
- The Adventure of St. Columba’s Clerics, Irish, 10th C. [Bib.]
This work is found in the Yellow Book of Lecan and is related to the immrama known as the Voyage of Snegdus and Mac Riagla and the Vision of Adamnán. Here two clerics wander over the seas until they come to the Land of the Saints where the City of God is located. Its chief gateway has a veil of fire and a veil of ice. And it is surrounded by seven crystal ramparts. Six gates guard the seven heavens, and before each gate is a place of punishment: including fiery rivers, a blazing rampart, a whirlpool, and a furnace of fire. But there is also a separate hell under Lucifer’s rule. The first place is a black land without any torture, but with a vast bridge over a glen filled with eight burning monsters. Next is a strand of eternal pain with fiery pillars and a sea of fire for paracides and those who manage church wealth for their own benefit. Other punishments are reserved for thieves, perjurers, traitors, blasphemers, robbers, false judges, and heretics, while other sinners, including impious kings and adulyterous women, are tortured by troops of demons.
- The Life of Brendan, Irish, before 1000 [Bib.]
- The Vision of Heriger, German, 10th/11th C. [Bib.]
Tenth- or eleventh-century Latin poetic satire of otherworld visions recounted by a prophet, who is called throughout a liar, to Heriger, archbishop of Mainz (91226). He travels to hell, which he describes as surrounded by a wood, and to heaven where he describes the table where the abstemious John the Baptist serves the wine. It is the first example of satire in the afterlife tradition and is written in decasyllabic verse (150 words).
1000 1500 CE
- The Vision Book of Otloh of Emmeran, German, 11th C. [Bib.]
Seven visions of the otherworld are included among the twenty-three in the Latin Liber visionem tum suarurn, tum aliorum of Otloh, a Benedictine monk of Ratisbon (Regensburg) in the eleventh century. Two of these are closely related to the Vision of Drythelm and the Vision of the Monk of Wenlock.
The Vision of a Beggar, the eleventh vision in the collection, describes the experiences of a local beggar (about 600 words in length) who sees the recently dead in a metal house, an empty well surrounded by many unused paths, and a delapidated monastery before he is shown a dying tree, which represents the bishop.
The fourteenth vision is the Vision of the Monk Isaac, a monk of Bohemia, who meets the hermit Gunther in a beautiful place and also sees the mountain of hell and the place of judgement, whose seats of fire remind the reader of the theater in the Vision of Thurkill.
The Vision of Empress Theophanu, the seventeenth vision, concerns the fate of the empress in hell.
- The Voyage of the Descendants of Corra, Irish, 11th C. [Bib.]
- The Evernew Tongue, Irish, 1112th C. [Bib.]
- The Vision of Ansellus Scholasticus, French, 101025? [Bib.]
Written by Ansellus (or Anseau) of Rheims, scholasticus, and also monk of Auxerre and Fleury, in Latin verse by request of his former student Odon, now abbot of SaintGermain d’Auxerre. Older prose version dates from between 1032 and 1052; version in octosyllabic couplets is of a later but uncertain date. Although the monk is anonymous, it was once suggested that the vision was experienced by Odon himself. (Length: approximately 2000 words.)
This vision begins with the story of Clovis and St. Remigius before going on to tell of the monk who, after traveling to Rheims at the Kalends of October, the feast of St. Remigio, dreams that he is preaching in the church at Easter and then is taken with Christ on the harrowing of hell. When sent back to earth through hell, he is guided by a devil who protects him from the demons threatening him. This devil follows him all the way back to earth and climbs into bed with him to hold a series of discussions relating to the harrowing of hell. The vision ends with a humorous exchange about the monastic custom, which the devil finds offensive, of rising early for morning office.
This vision is unusual in its focus on the specific incident of the harrowing which is also related in the Gospel of Nicodemus, a possible influence in this vision, and in the devil playing the role of guide.
- The Vision of Rainerius, Italian, before 1045 [Bib.]
This vision is found in Letter 7 (or 14) of the works of Peter Damian, addressed to an unnamed neighboring bishop. Peter claims to have heard this vision from Gerard, a canon of the cathedral of Florence (later bishop of Florence). In this vision a priest named Rainerius (otherwise unidentified) sees the otherworldly experience of another priest named Peter. Peter is identified as the confessor to Hildebrand (fl. 989–1015) of the Gherardesca family, count of Tuscany and of Capua, a man who boasted of his properties.
Rainerius sees Peter summoned to a mountain by St. Benedict. As Peter ascends, he discovers himself to be covered in leprosy. Benedict explains that it is from the cloak he accepted from Hildebrand (cf. the garment that Furseus received from a sinner). Benedict leads Peter to a river of purgation where he sees the count in great distress. Peter also sees Count Lotharius of Pistoia, who had recently died. He asks Peter to tell his people to return the land he stole from St. Mary’s, although Peter does not know which St. Mary’s he means. Further along he sees demons preparing for the arrival of Count Guido II of the Guidi family (d. by 1034), who will die on the following Wednesday.
Peter Damian tells this story to warn the bishop to be on guard against receiving gifts from evil men.
- The Vision of a German Count, Peter Damian, before 1073 [Bib.]
A vision of hell recounted in a sermon by Hildebrand (Gregory VII) before he became pope in 1073. Peter Damian (1007–72) incorporated it into chapter 6 of his De abdicatione episcopus. The visionary is an anonymous holy man. In hell he sees a count who had died ten years previously. Although he was considered an honest, just and decent man, he stands on a ladder with his ancestors below him and his descendants above him. As new members of the family die, they descend rung by rung into the pit of hell. When the holy man asks about the count's sin, it emerges that for generations his family has been holding onto property belonging to the church of Metz. This vision is used to warn against accepting gifts from people unjustly holding possessions and property belonging to the church.
- The Vision of Walkelin, French, 1091 [Bib.]
Walkelin (or Wachelin), a priest of Saint-Aubin-de-Bonneval in the diocese of Lisieux, has a vision of purgatory one night when returning home after administering to a sick man. His vision, described in about 2200 words, is included in an entry for the beginning of January 1091, at the time of the siege of Courci, in Odericus Vitalis’ Ecclesiastical History (Bk. 8, ch. 17), a twelfthcentury Latin work on the Normans.
Walkelin attempts to hide behind some meddlar trees to escape the notice of a passing troop, which turns out to be a procession of the dead who suffer in a purgatory located not in an otherworid, but in our own world. Walkelin sees many who are known to him, but these come especially from the ranks of the knights who are tortured for their various sins. The priest has a confrontation with these souls when he attempts to steal one of their horses to use as a proof of his vision. Instead he returns with a facial scar as proof. Walkelin is not very cooperative with the requests of the souls until he meets his brother, and although he continues to resist, he is finally convinced to undertake some attempt to relieve the suffering of those in purgatory through prayer and alms. and he amends his own life, which is marred by some small vices.
This vision is interesting in the various similarities it has with the descriptions of the Witches’ Sabbaths described in Carlo Ginzburg’s Ecstasies (New York: Penguin, 1992). For instance: the early January date, the parade of souls, the souls riding animals.
- The Vision of Alberic, Italian, 1127–37 [Bib.]
Alberic of Settefrati (b. c. 1100) was a monk of Monte Cassino under Abbot Gerard (111123). His vision, at the age of ten, was first written down in c. 1111 by Guido, a priest of the Abbey of Monte Cassino. The surviving version was corrected by Alberic himself, under the direction of Abbot Senioretto (112737) and with the help of Peter the Deacon, author of the Chronicon monasterii Casinensis. Critical studies have focused primarily on its relation to the Divine Comedy. The sole ms of this vision (about 7000 words) is Monte Cassino 257, fol. 71234. This work bears traces of the influence of the visions of Perpetua, Wetti, Furseus, and the Voyage of Brendan, texts that were present in the library.
There is a prologue to the vision explaining how Alberic was obliged to revise his account of the vision, because so much extraneous material had been added to it.
The vision begins with Alberic lying sick, as if dead, for nine days. St. Peter and two angels, Emmanuel and Hélos, act as his guides. Hell is visited first. It is a series of locations, each dedicated to a particular group of sinners. There is a river of purgatory. Alberic is shown paradise and eventually the seven heavens and a land beyond, of which he is not permitted to speak. He is shown the fiftyone provinces of earth before he is finally returned to his body when Peter tells him to remember to make an offering each year at his church.
- The Vision of Guibert of Nogent’s Mother, French, c. 1116 [Bib.]
This vision is included in the De vita sua (Bk. 1, Ch. 18) of Guibert (10531124), the abbot of Benedictine abbey of NogentsousCoucy. Written in Latin c. 1116, in about 850 words, he tells of his mother’s vision.
While taking a nap on a Sunday morning, she experiences the separation of her soul from her body, although she maintains she had her senses. She travels through a long hallway, finding at the end a pit, where she is attacked by devils. She sees several people in her vision, including her husband, a friend of hers, and a knight named Renaud who died the very same day. All are condemned to suffer in the otherworld. But her vision of her husband leads her to spend the rest of her life in prayers and good deeds to relieve his suffering soul.
- The Vision of Orm, England, 1125/6 [Bib.]
Orm, a youth, who died in 1126 has a vision in November 1125 of four places: heaven, paradise, outside the wall of paradise and hell. Written in Latin by Sigar of Newbald (Yorkshire) c. 1126, this is a simple vision, of about 1000 words, that “represents the beliefs of the parochial clergy and simple laity” in the twelfth century in northeast England.
Orm becomes ill and is in a state of apparent death for thirteen days. He actually has three different visions. When he recovers, among the other places, he describes the Mouth of Hell, where lost souls are tormented with heat and cold.
- The Vision of the Boy William, French, 1146 [Bib.]
A brief vision of hell and heaven (dated 1146, in approximately 600 words) by a fifteenyear old boy named William. The vision lasts five days; on the third day he is seen to make the sign of the cross, which he does before leaving hell; and on the fifth day he revives after seeing heaven.
He has a guide through the otherworld, where he sees both fire and ice used in the punishments of hell. Tortures include rivers of ice cold water, fires, a flaming wheel, and a field where sinners are suspended above temptations that they cannot reach. He sees the mouth of hell and receives a strong warning before being abandoned temporarily by his guide who soon returns to take him through the apparently impenetrable wall of paradise.
This vision is found in the Speculum Historiale of Vincent of Beauvais (d. 1264). It may have been influenced by the visions of Paul and Drythelm and makes specific reference to the Apocalypse.
- The Vision of Tundale, Irish, 1149 [Bib.]
Tundale’s Vision was written in 1149 by an Irish monk who had travelled to Regensburg in Bavaria. This lengthy vision (10,500 words) was enormously popular in the Middle Ages and was translated into at least thirteen languages. The story of this vision is also related by Helinand and Vincent of Beauvais. There seems to be an indebtedness to the visions of Sunniulf, Paul, Drythelm, and the Boy William, as well as the Voyage of St. Brendan.
Tundale was an Irish knight and was almost surely on the road to hell. He was a true sinner, who was struck dead, but a little warmth on his left side prevented his friends from burytng him. In the meantime his soul was met by its own guardian angel who leads Tundale on a tour of hell and heaven.
Tundale, like the Knight Owein, is severely punished as he journeys through a hell that is strictly divided into punishments for particular sins. These are mentioned in sequence, beginning with murder. This description of hell is the most fully and consistently developed Christian one before the Inferno of Dante. In hell many of the usual features are present, like pits of fire, mountains of fire and ice, valleys of fire, narrow bridges, furnaces and ovens, a horrible beast who tortures fornicators, the forge of Vulcan and finally the pit of hell. There is also a beast belching flames and consuming the souls of the damned. All the souls tortured in the upper regions of hell, that is, not in the pit of hell, are not yet finally judged, so the greater part of this hell of Tundale actually serves as a place of purgation, although it is not actually called purgatory. Lucifer is given a full and careful description, but the description of the devil suffering is quite unusual. After hell, Tundale then proceeds on a gradually rising path visiting better and still better souls in fields and pavilions, then over walls of precious stones and metals and finally through gate.
Throughout this vision the angel guide and Tundale maintain a running discussion on the nature of divine mercy and justice, a dialogue that prefigures the one between Dante and Virgil. This replaces the discussions of the need for Masses, prayers, and alms for the dead, which are included in many of the other visions of holier men.
- The Vision of John, Monk of St. Lawrence of Liège, the Low Countries, 114958 [Bib.]
Latin vision of heaven and hell. After an illness John visits the otherworld guided by his patron saint, Lawrence. He begins his visit at purgatory where he sees a group of monks sitting together, suffering through privation of angels, light and hope. John also visits heaven and is finally led through the infernal regions by St. Maurice.
- The Vision of Gunthelm, English, second half of twelfth century (variously dated: before 1156, 1161, 1187) [Bib.]
Also called the Vision of a Cistercian Novice, possibly by Peter the Venerable (d. 1156), but certainly by someone living in France. It was later included in an abbreviated version in Helinand’s Chronicle (Bk. 48) where he dates it to 1161 and, based on Helinand’s Chronicle, in Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum Historiale dated 1187 as “The Vision of a Cistercian Novice.” The visionary is an English monk named William (Gunthelm, or Gunthelin, or Gundelin), and the vision may have taken place at Rievaulx (Yorkshire).
The visionary is taken up to heaven by St. Benedict. Then Raphael leads him to darks places full of the shadows of death, where he sees gloomy towers, which are the chimneys of hell. He sees people, including clerics of various types, seated in chairs and tortured, and Raphael, acting as guide, explains their tortures. Finally, in the abyss of hell, Gunthelm sees Judas.
- The Vision of the Monk of Melrose, English, 1160 [Bib.]
This Latin vision is included in Helinand’s Chronicle and dated 1160; it is based upon the Vision of Drythelm, with which it has great similarities.
The man is guided by a bright angel first to purgatory, then to the pit of hell, and finally to the forecourt of heaven and heaven itself. The visionary sees globes of fire ascending and descending, a detail found, otherwise exclusively, in Drythelm’s vision. During the visit to the pit of hell, he is surrounded and taunted by devils but finally rescued by his guide.
- Le Roman d’Enéas, French, 1160. [Bib.]
A retelling of Vergil’s Aeneid in octosyllabic couplets. Lines 2374–2782 recount Aeneas’s descent into hell, relying heavily on the original with some medieval and Christian elements added. The portrayal of Charon and Dido depart from the original, as well as the description of the tortures in Tartarus.
- The Book of Divine Works, by Hildegard of Bingen (10981179), German, 1163-1173/1174 [Bib.]
- St. Patrick’s Purgatory, Irish, 1179 [Bib.]
Patrick was a fifthcentury Irish saint. One legend surrounding his life involves an entrance to purgatory. Faced with converting a doubtful populace, Patrick prayed for help and God revealed to him an entrance to purgatory, so that anyone could see for themselves what the pains of the otherworld be be like for those who did not embrace Christianity. This legend gave rise to the identification of a specific spot where the entrance to purgatory might be found, located on Station Island in the lake, Lough Derg, a popular pilgrimage site in county Donegal. Around this site many legends arose. The first and foremost is the story of the Knight Owein, told by H. of Sawtry (Saltry) in the Tractatus de Purgatorio sancti Patricii (c. 117981) in Latin. A French text was soon derived from the numerous Latin manuscripts. Of the French translations there are at least seven in verse one by Marie de France and at least as many prose versions. There are also translations into Provençal, English (including “Owayne Miles”), and Italian. The scholarly work on the Tractatus focuses on the history of Lough Derg, the site of the Purgatory. Accounts of, or references to, the Tractatus occur in the works of Matthew Paris, Roger of Wendover, Jacobus de Voragine, Caesarius of Heisterbach, Jacopo of Vitriaco, Vincent of Beauvais, Etienne de Bourbon, and Peter the Venerable.
There are many other references to visits to St. Patrick’s Purgatory, dating from the twelfth century until 1497, when it was temporarily closed by Pope Alexander VI. Many who entered the little cave at Lough Derg and spent one evening, or three, there told of visiting the Purgatory. But some of the works describing a visit to this site, like that of Antonio Mannini in 1411, involve only a detailed description of the paperwork, interviews, and permissions involved in gaining admission.
St. Patrick’s Purgatory (Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii):
Owein describes his experience of the purgatory. His visit occurs just at the time when the concept of purgatory was becoming set as a doctrine in the Christian church. One of the important characteristics of this work, which distinguishes it from most of the other visions included here is the presumption of the actual physical and corporeal nature of the experience of the knight Owein whom we follow through the Purgatory. As in St. Brendan’s Voyage, there is no separation from the body, and all that he experiences he is assumed to experience corporally. Although other visions, like Tundale’s, approach the otherworld with the same attention to physical and corporeal details, in other cases the soul of the visionary is actually separated from the body.
Shortly after Owein descends into St. Patrick’s Purgatory, he enters a hall enclosed by pillars where he meets fifteen men. Although he is not guided by these, he is advised by one of them to say the name of “Jesus” whenever things are going awry, and he is warned not to accept any offers to return back to the cave before completing the journey through the Purgatory. The otherworld begins with a series of plains where souls are tortured. Owein is treated badly by the demons he meets in purgatory, but he always remembers to invoke the name of Jesus, and he also refuses the numerous offers to lead him back to the entrance.
In addition to the plains of tortured, there is also a wheel of redhot nails, a house of boiling cauldrons, a mountain swept by a whirlwind, a stinking and cold river, a pit that some demons claim is the mouth of hell, and a narrow and slippery bridge. These trials are not associated with individual sins but are general punishments.
Finally Owein arrives at an antechamber to heaven. Despite his own misgivings about his ability to reform, he is sent back to the entrance past all the demons who can no longer hurt him.
The Vision of William Staunton: A Middle English vision at St. Patrick’s Purgatory of purgatory and the earthly paradise, which is said to have occurred on the first Friday after the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross in 1409. William is guided by St. John of Bridlyngton and St. lye (of Quitike). The visionary does not suffer much, but he is constantly in danger of punishments fitted to sins. There is a discussion on the efficacy of prayer and almsgiving to relieve purgatorial suffering. Among those he meets is his sister and her lover, whose marriage he opposed. The visionary witnesses the trial of a prioress found guilty of wearing expensive decorations.
The Vision of Louis of France (Visio Ludovici de Francia):
This French vision dates from 1358 and is also known as the Vision of Louis de Sur or Louis d’Auxerre. It follows much the same format as other visions from St. Patrick’s Purgatory, with the particular details that Louis sees a king who is tortured but has relief for certain periods because of his generosity in alms.
The following visions are much the same except for those met in the otherworld and the messages they bring back.
• Raymond de Perehlos (1397 visit)
• Laurent Rathold de Pasztho (1411)
• George, Knight of Hungary (mid fourteenth century, Provençal origin, also known as George Grissophan , who came as a penitent. This version of the legend provides the first eyewitness account of the topography of Lough Derg.)
- The Vision of an English Novice, or Vision of an English Man, English, last decade of 12th C.
Also called the Vision of an English Man. Written in Latin, not before the last decade of the twelfth century. From ms St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek 142 (32444), later incorporated in part into Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum morale, where it is attributed to Peter of Cluny. A vision of purgatory where the visionary, led by St. Nicholas, sees, among other things, the punishments of a drunkard, of a knight who was too fond of hawking, of an insincere crusader, and of a knight who sold the presentment of a church in his patronage.
- The Vision of Gottschalk, German, 118990 [Bib.]
This vision of heaven, purgatory, and hell survives in two Latin versions written c. 118990: the Visio Godeschalci and Godeschalcus. The shorter Visio Godeschalci is written as a first-person account presumably by a priest of Nortof in Schleswig-Holstein. It survives in an incomplete form of about 95,000 words and is referenced by Caesarius of Heisterbach in his Dialogus Miraculorum. The longer Godeschalcus is thought to date from August–October 1190 and presumably was wriiten by a canon of the monastery at Neumünster in Lower Saxony. The Godeschalcus is found in Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 558 Helmst., 1v-24r (Autograph) as well as in Hannover, Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek, Ms. XXIII 163, f.1–81; Assmann edited the Visio Godeschalci from Köln, Historisches Archiv, GB (= Gymnasiabibliothek zu Köln), f. 94v–99r.
Gottschalk, a peasant from Holstein, lies as if dead from Christmas Eve 1188, until the fourth day of Christmas. During his trance he is guided through the otherworld by two angels. He is shown a tree of shoes, which are awarded to the merciful so that they might walk across the thorny moor unharmed. Initially Gottschalk is not given shoes, and after his return to life he bears the marks of his punishment. At one point, however, one of his guides takes mercy on him and returns for a pair of shoes.
There is a river of spikes that must be crossed either by swimming or by hanging onto a board floating by. On the other side of this broad river there are there paths: one to hell, one to purgatory, and the last to heaven. Gottschalk is led down all three. On the road to hell he sees people punished in their offending parts. The middle road of purgatory is broad and sweet, and it leads to the third heaven.
This vision has remarkable similarities with the Vision of Olav Asteson (Draumkvaede), and has been linked to that vision as a possible source. Several features, like the tree of shoes, are quite unusual, as is the realism of characters and vignettes.
- The Vision of the Monk of Eynsham, English, 1196 [Bib.]
A lengthy Latin vision of purgatory written, in about 22,000 words, in 1197 by order of the bishop of Lincoln. The redactor was Adam, subprior of the monastery, who was the brother of Edmund, the monk of Eynsham. The monk is never mentioned by name, but he is a very sick monk, who believes he is about to die. The vision is set in England at Eynsham near Oxford, where there was a rich Benedictine abbey dating from the eighth century.
The monk asks to be shown the afterlife beforehand. On the night before Good Friday his fellow monks find him and think he is dead. He begins to revive at midnight before Easter, and afterward he is persuaded to tell of his vision.
The monk is guided by St. Nicholas, who has little to say. The vision strongly promotes the idea of praying or offering Masses for the dead to help them through their own punishments.
The places of punishment include two plains and a hot and cold mountain above a stinking body of water. Sins and punishments are not paired, although sinners are punished according to their sins. The work does mention that those punished most severely are those most honored in life. Particularly singled out are judges and prelates, but the worst punishments are reserved for a certain sexual sin. The visionary says that this sin is so awful he will not even mention it, and he claims that he never knew of its existence before this vision.
The visionary also singles out for attention a particular lawyer who robbed his clients, neglected to repent before dying, and now despairs of the mercy of God. The monk meets some here whom he knows, including a goldsmith, who has been granted assistance by St. Nicholas, although those he knew on earth denied that he would obtain heaven. The monk next sees the three places of glory, including the Heavenly Jerusalem, and a vision of Christ on the cross, before returning to life.
The visionary is not punished during his vision, but he is asked to tell his vision when he returns and to request the prayers of the living for the dead. The idea of working one’s way, through punishment toward reward is very prominent here, and there is no sense that any of the souls the monk meets are eternally damned.
This vision bears signs of influnce by the Vision of Drythelm.There are several extant mss of this version; and later accounts are included in the works of Roger of Wendover, Matthew Paris, and Ralph Coggeshall. It is cited as an authority in the Vision of Thurkill.
- The Vision of Ailsi, by Peter of Cornwall, Celtic, 1190s [Bib.]
This vision was recorded by Peter of Cornwall in his Liber revelationum (Bk. 1, Ch. 6: 1317). Ailsi is Peter’s grandfather, who experienced a series of visions, culminating in a vision of the otherworld, which he experienced after the death of his son, Pagan.
Pagan leads his father through a nocturnal vision of the otherworid, teaching him about the otherworld and acting as his guide. This vision seems strongly influenced by the visions of Furseus, Drythelm, and Paul, as well as by St. Patrick’s Purgatory. This influence may be the result of Peter’s knowledge of these works rather than the description Peter received from his grandfather.
Ailsi is taken first through purgatory, and he descends into a dark valley, where he searches for a bridge to enable him to cross a river, however, not finding the bridge he is flown over on Pagan’s back, crossing both a river of fire and ice. Souls are punished with gradual immersion as found in other visions. There is also a house full of torments. Pagan and Aisli next visit the valley of hell where souls rise and fall in flames. Aisli also visits the earthly paradise, a broad field where souls patiently await entrance into heaven.
At the end of the vision Aisli asks to remain with Pagan, but is warned to return and the vision immediately fades.
- The Vision of Olav Asteson, Norwegian, early 13th C. [Bib.]
This dream of the otherworld lasts from Christmas Eve to the Epiphany. The dreamer, Olav Asteson, “a lad so brave and strong,” visits the realm of the dead and views a preliminary judgment of sins by St. Michael. He sees the retribution for evil deeds and the reward for good deeds in a landscape that includes the Gjallar Bridge an important feature of this otherworld; he is protected by a dog, a serpent, and a bull. He has no guide, but he does meet his “god mother,” the only person he recognized there, and she does direct his wanderings in the otherworld.
- The Vision of Thurkill, English, 1206 [Bib.]
This lengthy (c. 8500 words) vision of heaven, purgatory and paradise is dated October 1206 (All Souls’ Week) by both Ralph of Coggeshall and Roger of Wendover. The former is the redactor who translated Thurkill’s account into Latin. The preface mentions the visions of Tundale, the monk Stephen, the Monk of Eynsham, St. Patrick’s Purgatory, and Gregory’s Dialogues. The work recalls in part the Vision of Gunthelm and the Testament of Abraham.
Thurkill is a laborer in Essex, England who is visited one evening by St. Julian, who takes him on an otherworid journey, leaving his body behind. Thurkill has only been guilty of not tithing correctly for which his punishment is a whiff of the stench of a certain fire. Unlike many other visions, this vision is not particularly meant to save Thurkill’s soul but to make him a witness on earth to the torments and rewards of the otherworld. Some of the devils actually reinforce this point by saying that they don’t want Thurkill to see what goes on in their realm, because he will then warn those on earth, and the devils will lose their followers.
The physical structure of the otherworid is particularly interesting in this vision: there is a purgatorial fire, a cold and salty lake, and a bridge with thorns and stakes. St. Nicholas presides over purgatory and, as in the Monk of Eynshyn’s Vision, is responsible for helping the souls toward salvation. There seems to be a unique occurrence here, of the use of scales to weigh souls to determine whether they merit reward or punishment. St. Paul and a devil weigh the souls, and each takes charge of those who tip the scale toward their side. The scale is such a popular image in medieval visual representations of the Last Judgment that it is interesting that it does not occur more often in visions.
The place of punishment, quite unusual, is described as a theater. Those to be punished are arranged around on seats, which themselves inflict pain. The devils view a spectacle that involves the sinners reenacting their sins and then being tortured fiercely by demons before being finally returned to their seats. The sinners who are singled out for punishment include a proud man, a priest who took goods from his people and did not perform his duties, a soldier who killed and robbed, a lawyer who took bribes, adulterers and adulteresses, slanderers, thieves, incendiaries and violators of religious places, and bad merchants. Bloomfield mentions that in Thurkill’s Vision “punishments [are] meted out in hell, by class as well as by sin.”
- The Dream of Hell, by Raoul de Houdenc (c. 1165c. 1230), French, early 13th C. [Bib.]
- The Sawles Warde, English, 12101215 [Bib.]
- The Dialogue on Miracles, by Caesarius of Heisterbach (c. 1180c. 1240), German, c. 122035 [Bib.]
- The Vision of Stephanus de Marusiaco’s Father or The Vision of a Reliable Man, French, before 1261 [Bib.]
This vision is included in the Etienne de Bourbon’s Tractatus de diversis materiis praedicabilibus and entitled “De subvensìone beatorum.” It describes in a Latin text of about 700 words, the man’s visit to a house of torment and a river full of animals, which is crossed by a bridge. Mary helps him across the bridge, after which he returns to his body bearing a warning.
- The Inferno, by Dante Aligheri, Italian , 13021321. [Bib.]
- The Dialogue of Catherine of Siena (13471380), Italian, 137778.
- The Way of Hell and Paradise, by Jean de la Mote, 14th. C.
- A Revelation of Purgatory by an Unknown Woman, English 1422 [Bib.]
An unknown author from Winchester, England, addresses the revelations from a series of four visions to her confessor. The first vision occurs on St. Lawrence Day, 1422; the other three occur on the three following nights, as the woman witnesses and helps the soul of one, Margaret, through the three fires of purgatory; revealing her vision of the three great fires of purgatory to profit the souls of the living.
The initial vision is of the punishment of religious men and women who failed to lead an exemplary life. At first the woman is without a guide, but the second vision focuses on Margaret who subsequently acts as the woman’s guide explaining many aspects of purgatory and punishment. Margaret also hopes the woman will be a source of her salvation, and she beseeches the woman for help in freeing herself from the purgatorial fires. She details a long list of prayers and masses to be said for her by specific individuals.
On the third night the woman witnesses the suffering of Margaret in the first fire as the devil explains her sins and sufferings. Other punishments of both religious and lay persons are revealed, and Margaret explains these sins and punishments. On the fourth night Margaret passes through the second and third purgatorial fires and explains how purgatory is structured.
Although this vision lacks clear geographical descriptions, the descriptions of physical tortures more than compensate since they are gruesome and vivid in detail. An interesting feature is the little fiery cat and dog who follow Margaret about tearing at her body. This vision is also significant in its complex structure, being four related visions, in its preservation of a particular aspect of woman’s visions, in that it is personal and confessional, and yet it uses many of the more conventional otherworld elements found in the more popular literary visions.
- The Vision of Edmund Leversedge, English, 1465. [Bib.]
This vision finds the visionary led through a narrow place into a dark valley with a light like the morning dawn in early spring. His guardian angel is his guide. Edmund is tempted and tortured by devils, promising lordship and threatening everlasting fire for complying with or denying them. He is rescued by his guide and taken to a high hill where he is lectured by a lady — clearly the Virgin — who warns him away from fashionable clothes and kissing women. She relents on the latter, but restricts his kissing to the formal-greeting kind. She then advises him to take little money and travel to Oxford under the pseudonym William Wretch and study there for eight years.
Although the work states that the vision was composed in Latin, the work is only known to survive in one Middle English manuscript of the 15th century (BL Add 34,193). Edmund Leversedge is known to have lived in the village of Frome in Somerset and to have died in 1496. There is no record that he or William Wretch ever attended Oxford, although the records for the university are not extant for the period 1464–1504.
- The Vision of Lazarus, German, 15th C. [Bib.]
In the Visio Lazari, Lazarus recounts what he had seen in the otherworld before Christ raised him from the dead.
This vision does not provide a specific sense of place, but rather describes seven scenarios for punishing the seven deadly sins: the proud turned on wheels, the envious in a frozen lake, the ireful butchered in a shadowy cave, the slothful tormented by serpents, the covetous boiled in cauldrons of molten metal, the gluttons fed with disgusting beasts and finally the lecherous tormented in wells of fire and sulphur. Although each description is brief it is vivid, and each description is followed by a sermonlike meditation on the particular sin.
- The Spanish Tragedy, by Thomas Kyd (1558-1594), English, 1586
- Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe (156493), English, 1588
- A Few Sighs from Hell or the Groans of the Damned Soul, John Bunyan, English, 1658
- The Apocalypse of Mary, Ethiopic, 17th C.
- The Visions of John Bunyan, by George Larkin, English, 1699
- Heaven and Its Wonders and Hell: From Things Heard and Seen, Emanuel Swedenborg (16881772), Swedish, 1758 [Bib.]
- The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, by William Blake, English, 1793
- The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, by Hans Christian Andersen, Danish, 1859
- Night in Hell, by Arthur Rimbaud (185491), French, 1873
- Man and Superman, by George Bernard Shaw, Irish, 1903. Act 3, Scene 2, “Don Juan in Hell,” first performed on on June 4, 1907.
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce, Irish, 1916
- The Vision of Fatima, by Lucia Santos, Portuguese, 1917
- No Exit, (Huis Clos) Jean-Paul Sartre, French, 1944. Source of “Hell is other people” (“l’enfer, c’est les autres”), perhaps his most famous quote.
- The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis (18981963), English, 1946
- Doctor Faustus, by Thomas Mann (18751955). German, 1947. Chapter 34 for Adrain Leverkühn’s description of his hell based on the Vision of St. Paul.
- The Book of Mormon, by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. English, 2011. In Act 2, Scene 2, Elder Price has a “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” where he finds himself in a infernal landscape surrounded by demons. The text does not describe the scene, only his encounter with Jesus (in the underworld?) and Satan. Price also sees in hell Adolf Hitler, Johnny Cochran, Genghis Khan, and JeffreyDahmer. Price is accused of abandonning his mission companion. He quickly repents. It is clearly a dream and, so when he awakens he reforms.
* associated with the Jewish as well as the Christian traditon.