A Place of Suffering Awaits Each Sinner: Images of Hell in the Printed Publications of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania of the 18th Century (Summary)

Jolita Sarcevičienė (PDF)

Images of hell kindled the imagination of entire generations of believers. According to Georges Minois, an image of hell caused fear for ordinary mortals. Heroes, poets and mystics constantly ‘transgressed’ the boundary of the underworld to present new images of this dreadful place of suffering, revealing the personal and collective fears and the entire epoch in which they lived.

The article seeks to reveal the images of hell, such as sermons, guides to spiritual life, catechisms, occasional writings, etc., presented in the printed publications of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) in the 18th century. The theme of hell has received little research in Lithuanian historiography. Therefore, the article aims to present generalising statements and well-grounded conclusions, reveal the visual character of the descriptions of hell found in the sources and raise questions about the works meant for the social elite contain different ‘faces of evil’ than, e.g. catechisms aimed at a wider readership.

The references used reveal that while seeking to impact the listeners or readers, the authors most often appealed to their senses, such as touch, sight, hearing and smell, trying to kindle their imagination. In contrast, the social position of the author or the perceiver was less distinct. Western European researchers noticed that in the sermons of the 17th and 18th centuries, a difference between the images of hell meant for the ordinary people and the elite and between the methods by which the authors try to make an impression on peasants and noblemen are pretty easily distinguished, it hardly manifests itself in the printed publications of the GDL. The priests who delivered sermons for the common folk and wrote works aimed at more educated layers of society drew on the images found in the apocalyptic writings and sought the sole aim, i.e., to intimidate and confuse, to present such images that would, above all cause the fear of hell and salutary respect in believers.

Keywords: hell, devil, cultural history, mentality, sermons