Chapter 6: Individual and Collective Sins

The Tartars, who leave, at first sight, a feeling of tumultuous and confusing disorder are actually very structured and organized according to a double hierarchy.

A first vertical hierarchy distinguishes the sins of men and those of society according to records.

On the ground floor of the devil’s warehouse, the gallery of individual sins is a tasty anthology of human defects.



- Felon to honor, the proud knight falls backward, next to his horse (power) . As in the Magnificat, the proud one is brought down. This powerful knight is even the first one to be sent to Tartarus, a bold choice in feudal times! But the stigma of sins should be seen as part of the Gregorian reform launched by Gregory VII in the late eleventh century. This pope, who would reign from 1073 to 1085, was trying to fight against the clergy’s feudalism of the tenth and eleventh centuries, time during which lords were appointed bishops or abbots.


The felon knight

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- Despite his tonsure, the Nicolaitan priest, respects neither celibacy nor chastity. A rope around his neck, he is accompanied by the concubine with whom he committed the sin of the flesh. The struggle to impose celibacy to the priests was still one of the cornerstones of the Gregorian reform. We shall find further another representation of the theme of lust with Tisiphone. (see ancient sources of the tympanum)

The Nicolaitan priest and his concubine

- The miser is hanging with his purse around his neck (possession is considered here as one of the 7 deadly sins). One might also notice a polysemic correspondence with the story of Judas and his thirty pieces of silver.

The miser, hanging with his purse around his neck
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- The slanderer is a liar, or a blasphemer who has sinned in word : his tongue is being torn off. "The language is that venom, that world of injustice, this fire capable to set the whole world ablaze, inflamed as it is by Gehenna" said St. Jacques  in his epistle. (James 3: 6) (another cardinal sin) (1)

The liar


- A serious act that was worth automatic excommunication: abortion. A demon plunges a woman with a bounced belly into the evil cauldron where a concoction of abortifacient herbs is infusing. Notice the presence of a snake and a toad, symbols of witchcraft. On the right, we guess at the presence of a mortar and its mill, seen from above. This fault is certainly one of the worst, and it is placed at the very bottom of the tympanum and in the corner that is farthest of the Savior.




Pregnancy that one is trying to hide
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Here, even more clearly than on the lower floor, a new hierarchy superimposes itself, a horizontal one this time, with sins whose severity increases progressively as one moves away from Christ.
Temporal power is clearly shown with its kings, its emperors, and its soldiery and even a sovereign usurper, the Antipope ; he occupies the intermediate register.
Spiritual power appears on the upper register: it brings together holders of spiritual power such as a bishop, monks and heretics. This position replicates the social hierarchy of medieval Christianity where temporal power is expected to submit to the authority of spiritual power. But it may also mean that the moral responsibility for the fault of spiritual leaders who failed is all the greater!
Anyway, these collective sins, that is those committed as part of one’s social situation, in the performance of professional duties, are strictly distributed into the three categories of possession, power,  and knowledge.


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These collective sins are treated according to one of the period burning issues: here the world leaders are being punished, with an explicit reference to the Investiture Controversy, denunciation of forbidden weapons and criticism of money power. Here the flames are gone: we are among the living, in the present.

Temporal power:  

- Powerful among the powerful, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V is represented as a naked king. He points the finger at Charlemagne, his alter ego, indignant at the presence –unfair in his his eyes- of this great sinner in the Residences*. (2)

Henry  V

Henry V, naked king wearing nothing but his crown

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- The antipope Gregory VIII (Bourdin of Uzerche) pierced by a spear from the mouth to the neck (the part that goes from the left hand of the demon to his mouth is gone). A winged devil snatches his tiara. (This antipope usurps both the temporal power in Rome and the spiritual power over all Christendom. But is Bourdin of Uzerche the only antipope represented on the tympanum? Who are the four clerks represented above Henry V? On this subject, see a hypothesis about this enigmatic quartet, in french)


The antipope

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- Another German Emperor, Henry IV (father of Henry V), twice excommunicated (by Gregory VII and then by Urban II) crowned by antipope Clement III, appears here uncrowned and a devil makes a reverse genuflection before him, a satirical parody of his false submission to Canossa. This is an explicit reference to the Investiture Controversy, with which the Gregorian reform is heavily concerned. (Read more about the Investiture Controversy, in french)

Henry  IV
Henri IV and the reverse genuflection

The demons, aping the soldiery of the warring armies, brandish a crossbow, a new deadly weapon prohibited by the 1139 Lateran Council because it transforms the nature of the fight, replacing the loyal body to body sword combat, by deceitful ambush. Four years later, in 1143, Innocent II would even threaten all manufacturers, dealers, and archers with excommunication and anathema, apparently without great effect... Yet, in Conques, the Benedictines intended to emphasize the battle of the Church to moralize the laws of war as much as possible: already in 1095, the Council assembled by Urban II at Clermont (the very place where the first meetings of peace were held in the middle of the tenth century, and where he preached the first crusade in november 1095) had had to reaffirm the difficulty to impose the principle of the peace of God prohibiting fights from Wednesday evening to Monday morning, as well as every day from Advent to Epiphany, and a hundred more days starting six weeks before Easter and ending one week after Pentecost. Does the fallen knight mean that these archers had violated these precepts? Anyway, here the military power is clearly denounced.


The crossbower El ballestero
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- The draper is struggling with the she-devil Lilith. He is sitting on a piece of fabric which a devil is unfolding and devouring above his head.

Lilith Devil eating the draper's sheet Lilith sheet El paƱnero

Lilith and the draper

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- The usurer (3), the speculator, hung upside down, is coveting the purse in the cup, while the draper is pressing his foot on his chest.

The usurer the cup The purse usury

the usurer the cup The purse The usurer coveting the purse
usurer the usurer The cup the purse

On the upper register, the sins of those who hold the supreme authority of possession culminate: the master of money, the devil of money, and the clerics who hold the knowledge and the moral authority responsible for the sins against the Spirit.

- The Master of the world, money, stands at the top of the collective sins of power and possession. Here is the goldsmith, the (true) coin maker (4), he holds supreme authority. He carries in his hand the insignia of power: the punch. At his feet the crucibles where the gold is melted. A demon rejects his neck backwards to have him drink the metal, as Moses did with the Hebrews after reducing the golden calf to powder. (Exodus, 3: 20)

The 1940 casting revealed that the money maker’s pen had a word on its reverse (CUNEUS).  This mark in the corner, which today would be understood as "certified", authenticates its owner as the official servant of Mammon. The latter, taking him by the beard, is having ​​him swallow the molten metal, just as Moses had the Hebrews drink the destroyed golden calf. One cannot serve both God and Mammon. (Mt 6: 24)

money maker  'CUNEUS' The crucibles and melting pots

The money maker (4) and his master, Mammon
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- The heretics are shown with their books that suggest pervert teachings, misled, or falsified knowledge.
Many are the heresies in the twelfth century: that of Beranger, the Bishop of Tours who denied the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist; that of Henry of Lausanne, the libertarian preacher; that of Peter of Bruys (5) who broke crosses; finally that of reformer and troublemaker Arnaud of Brescia, who was condemned with Abelard at the initiative of Bernard of Clairvaux in 1140 and who would drive the Pope (Celestine II) out of Rome in 1144 to establish a republic. (Learn more about twelfth century heresies in french).

Their moral responsibility is heavier than that of the draper, the banker, or the moneylender who only use money, and much more serious than that of the miser on the lower register.
The three heretic books

- Finally here is the simoniac bishop, who sold the sacraments. Caught in the nets of the Devil (6), with its reversed and broken scepter, he worships Lucifer, the fallen angel. Simony is the worst sin for the men of  the Church: it is a violation of the Spirit committed by the very people who should guide the souls. This is another explicit reference to one of the fundamental fights of the reform initiated by Gregory VII. (This sin combines the areas of knowledge, possession, and spiritual power).
Above, in the net, we recognize two monks and an abbot who keeps his scepter head down. Clergymen are definitely numerous on this side of the tympanum!

Just as we met notorious sinners who had been saved by their acts or their faith in the Paradise Residences, on the side of Tartarus, we find at least seven clerics, monks, priests, abbots or bishop (recognizable at their hairdo) who, although they were men of the Church have failed...



simony The net The broken crozier The broken crozier Title=
The simoniac bishop
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The broken lintel between the second and third levels of Tartarus opens a passage leading from the draper and his colleague usurer, on one side to the money maker, and on the other to the heretics. This is not fortuitous: indeed, street vendors did not only circulate goods and money; they also conveyed news, ideas, and heresies, such as that of the Vaudois, initiated by Pierre de Vaux, the Lyon weaver (Valdo ). (7)

The broken lintel spreading heresy
The broken lintel

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The excommunicated emperors, the antipope, the coin maker, the draper, the usurer, the abortionist, the intemperate, the greedy, the slanderer , all ostensibly turn their back to Christ, and often plunge their gaze to the ground.

From the dead on the lower level, who are represented unconscious and apathetic and placed in the fire of purgatory, to the earthly world of the living, agitated protesters who are represented on the two upper levels of the present time (where the flames are logically absent), it is the fate of the "damnati" which is staged, that of the rejected ones, those subjected to the purifying trials of Tartarus. "Damnati" does not mean "damned", but "sentenced". The punishing sentences purify them and lead them to the liberating truth.  Jacques Le Goff, in the "Birth of Purgatory" explains that "the time of the afterlife in the first third of the twelfth century is not penal, but penitential time".



The test is a proof of truth. The flames of Tartarus do neither burn nor consume, but illuminate the souls of the tested ones.

The man then regains consciousness: he recovers consciousness and rises under the very feet of Satan. The grace* coming from Christ "restores" him, his face becomes beautiful, serene, bright, almost glowing. (8)

Here, flames don't burn, they illuminate The Restaured man Satan's feet

The restored man rises under Satan’s feet (8)
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As much as hell means everlasting punishment, so does Tartarus* imply forgiveness.

For the early twelfth century monastic thought, the judgment of God is the justification* of the sinner, the opposite of damnation.
Saint Paul (9) and Saint Augustine affirm it to us, and in Conques, the sculptor shows it.
This vision, which is so characteristic of Romanesque Renaissance, will not prevail in the Gothic period anymore, which perhaps explains why so many of our contemporaries still see Conques’s Last Judgment with a Hell "ad vitam eternam" (Hell for ever). Some would like to see only flames (although they are very rare) and horrible tortures without realizing that the tested ones only present impassive, appeased faces, and that only the demons are screaming and grimacing. (10)
Insidiously, a righteous "bourgeois" moral gradually changed the true master of money into a "counterfeiter"; the feudal hunter into a "poacher" and transformed the usurer’s insatiable thirst into vulgar "drunkenness"! (See note 4) Thus, in the pregnant woman’s belly one should only see the "greedy’s” stomach! But, what is sinister and grotesque?
Sic transit Gloria mundi...

Incidentally, Conques’s Romanesque portal keeps in its stone the scars of history and of the dramatic vicissitudes that took place shortly after its erection, as we will now see. (Follow up)

Next chapter: 7) Architectural anomaly


(1) One may compare this image with the vision of Peter’s apocryphal Apocalypse: “Some were hanged by the tongue, they were slanderers, and below them there was a fire," Apocalypse according to St. Peter, c. XXII, quoted by Jacques Le Goff (La Naissance du Purgatoire, folio histoire, 2002, p. 54). ( Back to text) (Back to text)

 (2) From the Tartarus of the living to the heavenly Mansions, individuals see each other in the same way as in Luke’s Gospel the bad rich man sees Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, from Hades: "In Hades, prey to torture, he [the bad rich man ] looked up and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried: 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip [...] and cool my tongue'.” (Lk 16 : 23-24) (Back to text)

(3)  Is it the usurer coveting the purse put in the cup or, as we read all too often, a "drunkard" who regurgitates his drinking? To avoid gross errors of interpretation, one must admit that the studied object being clearly the reflection of a Christian view, it is essential to return to the symbols a meaning that is consistent with this ideology and not with the more or less Folk projections induced by our contemporary, secular, and even anticlerical moral conceptions. In this case, usury, widely denounced as immoral in the Bible is again condemned by the Second Lateran Council in 1139. The loan sharks were the first, says Jacques Le Goff, to benefit from the Purgatory in the thirteenth century. (See La Naissance du Purgatoire, folio histoire p. 54). But who does it bother among our contemporaries to see the banker, the speculator or the stockbroker, thrown into Tartarus by the monks of the Romanesque civilization? (Back to text)

(4) Money master or “counterfeiter"? This is the whole question! Certainly, with polysemy, a symbolic picture may have several meanings. But to interpret an image, it is necessary to ensure that the gesture corresponds to a scriptural substrate linked with the topic. So the Scriptures never speak of "counterfeiters" but of Mammon, the master of money, and that, let’s not forget, the first person to go to heaven with Jesus was the "Good Thief", maybe a penitent counterfeiter... (Back to text)

 (5) Peter of Bruys was burned at Saint Gilles du Gard in 1131. (see page in french on heresies) (Back to text)

 (6) Medieval imagery was in this case inspired in Hebrew sources: the Sheol’s nets are indeed mentioned in the Psalms (Cf. Ps 18: 6 and 116: 3) (Back to text)

(7) Como lo destaca Yves Christe acerca de Conques, se ponen en escena a  "delitos concretos cometidos por personas que pertenecen a grupos sociales, y a profesiones específicos" ( Yves Christe, op. cit. p. 183) (regresar al texto)

 (8) This image may be compared with:

- Meditation of Guigues II the Carthusian, reminding Paul's epistle to the Ephesians ( Eph 5: 14) :
"Awake, the trumpet sounds,
O sleeper.
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you
" ;
- and with Luke’s Gospel:
"And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
When things begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption approaches
." (Lk 21: 27-28)

Could it be due to intellectual laziness that some saw him as a "lazy one" whom they imagine "punished" for this alleged vice? (Back to text)

(9) See Letter to the Romans (Rom. 3: 21-5 and 29). About the many connections between the tympanum and the Epistle to the Ephesians, see St. Paul's dedicated section (in french). (Back to text)

(10) This apathy of the tested ones, which contrasts with the torture inflicted to the damned ones in hell is characteristic of the iconography of Purgatory. Jacques Le Goff, describing the gestures in purgatory observes that " The tortured ones have no gesture initiative either they are in passive positions and situations; or they are subject to aggressive acts by the demons”. L’imaginaire Médiéval, Gallimard, NRF, 1991, p. 133) (Back to text)

Next chapter: 7) Architectural anomaly

The median register : collective sins of economic power Upper register : collective sins od spiritual power of financial power Upper register : collective sins od spiritual power Median register : collective sins of polotical power



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