When the Knights Templar were off fighting crusades, churches across Europe specialised in images of blood and gore. Because gory images have always been a feature of the death obsessed Catholic church. Whether it’s dismembered saints or gruesome depictions of the crucifixion, Catholicism hasn’t flinched from representing it.
Gory Catholic saints
Years ago, I took a non-Catholic friend of mine to a church in Prague. Staring up at a picture of a demure female saint he asked why she was carrying a tray with two loaves of bread. Oh dear, I thought, better break this gently to him.
That’s not bread. That’s her breasts. Saint Agatha is often shown with her severed breasts, cut off by the Romans as part of her martyrdom.
Then there’s Saint Apollonia who I’ve seen brandishing one of her teeth in a pair of pliers above her head. Why? Because those dastardly Romans pulled her teeth out to convince the poor woman to return to paganism. Similarly, there’s Saint Lucy, often holding out a smaller tray than Agatha containing her eyes. Same reason – Romans, torture, etc.
LEARN MORE – The Knights Templar and the True Cross
The blood of Jesus
Jesus of course offers a rich source of gory imagery for Catholic churches. He was nailed to a cross after all. I’ve included two images in this post of Jesus – from different churches in Portugal – after the crucifixion. There are the bloody stigmata and the blood on his head from the crown of thorns.
Many Catholic homes in southern Europe will include Jesus in exquisite agony on the cross with open wounds. My great grandmother’s crucifix has pride of place in my study in London and it’s a gore fest.
Protestant disapproval of Catholic gore
The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century demanded simplicity and a cull of graven images, seen as being sinful as per the Ten Commandments. So graphic images were whitewashed over so that the faithful could focus on the words of scripture as opposed to having their senses titillated.
But you can’t keep a good gore-fest down. Mel Gibson’s movie on Christ dramatised the execution of the Messiah with such horrific detail that your humble scribe adjourned to the cinema bathroom to splash cold water on his face.