York Minster's Sinister Doomstone
One of the strangest of York Minster’s many statues, monuments and carvings is that of the Doomstone. Sitting in the Crypt below the High Altar this artwork is hidden away against a wall but well worth checking out if visiting The Minster.
This sinister carving depicts a quite unsettling scene and dates back to the Norman Minster which pre-dated the current Gothic version. It has been dated to the 12th century and is a visual representation of hell.
It was originally believed to have been part of an external frieze on the West Front of the Norman Minster but more recently people now believe it was an internal artwork due to the lack of erosion and well preserved condition of the limestone it is carved out of.
The Doomstone depicts a cauldron and three mouths of hell into which the souls of the damned are being pushed and tortured by fearsome demons. The cauldron is meant to represent one of the mouths of hell and act as a warning to people as to what may happen if they act in an un-Godly manner.
Above the cauldron there is a man carrying two bags of money – meant to show greed as well as the figure of a well-dressed woman depicting the sin of lust. Toads also decorate the carving and were seen as mystical dark creatures in Norman times.
Beneath the cauldron two demons and two devils support the cauldron holding a tortured soul in the flames.
Other remnants of the Norman Minster can be seen in the Undercroft / Crypt including original thick column stumps and rounded arches. This Minster was constructed between 1080 and 1100 after the Norman conquest. You can see how it compares in size to the present Minster in the image below.
During these times churches would often use gruesome imagery to scare the congregation to behave in a Christianly way or else! It would certainly scare me if I found myself alone in the crypt!