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PASSIONS FOR SATAN: Why Monuments to Him Are Still Erected

PASSIONS FOR SATAN: Why Monuments to Him Are Still Erected
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Photo by Luigi Boccardo on Unsplash

 

World culture has given us an incredible array of images of the «father of lies». Since the first depiction, dating back to the 6th century, Satan — also known as the Devil, Lucifer, the Antichrist, and many other names — has undergone a complex evolution: from a blue angel to a black-winged creature, from a half-beast with a face instead of buttocks to a sexually attractive young man. In the 21st century, the fascination with Satan shows no signs of abating. Today, there are even monuments to Satan. They have been erected in various countries around the world for a multitude of reasons and under the most unusual circumstances…

 

DEVILISHLY SEXY DEVIL

 

Once in the 19th century, the priests of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Belgian city of Liège commissioned sculptor Joseph Geefs to carve Lucifer. Depicting the medieval monster for the thousandth time seemed terribly banal to the master. Who said that Satan must look like a freak?

At least until the fall from grace, he was an archangel of incredible beauty. To ensure that people did not confuse this terrifying beauty with terrifying evil, the sculptor included typically devilish attributes — a snake and bat wings — on the statue. This artistic choice unsettled the approval committee, but grudgingly accepted the devilishly attractive and not-at-all-scary Satan.

The church fathers were initially pleased as the number of female congregants began to rise rapidly. However, they were soon disappointed to realize that the women were coming not so much to participate in the liturgy as to gaze at the fallen angel. It was decided to remove the statue from the cathedral and commission a new one.

The new commission was given to Guillaume, the brother of the previous sculptor. However, Guillaume’s Lucifer turned out even more seductive — despite the addition of horns, clawed wings, a bitten apple, and shackles on his feet.

The priests reprimanded Guillaume but decided not to remove the second statue from the cathedral. After all, it was evident that the Devil’s machinations were to blame — who could guarantee that the same sacrilege wouldn’t happen with the next commission?

 

LUCIFER THE ELECTRICIAN

 

The Belgian tradition was continued in England but in a different manner. In 2008, sculptor Paul Fryer presented his version of Lucifer at the Holy Trinity Church in Marylebone, Westminster. He created a stunning installation titled «Lucifer (Morning Star)», in which Lucifer held a special place. The sculpture was made of wax and featured enormous, pristine white wings.

However, he cannot soar in the heavens — he is entangled in the webs of sin. The artist uses wires to symbolize these bindings, conveying the catastrophe of the fall from grace. The deadly nature of this fall is emphasized by the sculpture’s connection to an earlier work by Fryer titled «Martyr», which was also displayed in the same church. «Martyr» depicted the execution by an electric chair and referenced the death of a lineman who fell onto the wires stretched above Broadway in 1889.

Alas, ubiquitous human irony spared neither Satan nor the artist’s drama-filled installation. Fryer’s sculpture unofficially became known as «The Devil Caught in Power Lines». Fortunately, accusations of blasphemy were not raised, as Holy Trinity Church had long ceased conducting services.

Moreover, the fallen, winged «electrician» seemed much more harmless than an exhibit from a previous show — a monkey crucified on a cross.

 

Скульптура Пола Фрайера «Morning Star»
Sculpture by Paul Fryer, Morning Star / theforestmagazine.com

 

SELF-PORTRAIT OF SATAN

 

It’s yet to be determined whether the Devil himself likes how he is portrayed. Apparently, not much, or he wouldn’t have left us his self-portrait in the famous Notre Dame de Paris. However, this cathedral is not the only architectural marvel in France that Satan is said to have built.

Often, he built them in wagers with Archangel Michael: Chartres Cathedral, Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey, and a couple of magnificent bridges — all are said to be his handiwork. With such talents and vanity, not «signing» his masterpieces would be foolish.

In Notre Dame, Lucifer left such a «signature». In the Gallery of Chimeras, there is a sculpture called the «Devil-Thinker». Lucifer sculpted this chimera, posing for himself. The charm of the legend isn’t diminished by the fact that, unlike the gargoyles, the chimeras are a 19th-century addition to the cathedral’s facade.

But if this makes you doubt the reality of Satan, don’t jump to conclusions! Just look at the beautifully crafted wrought iron gates of the cathedral. It’s said that Lucifer himself helped the blacksmith Biscornet forge them. However, this assistance came with a price — the locks on the gates were bewitched and could only be opened by sprinkling holy water.

As for Biscornet, who made a deal with the Devil, he fell into deep despair and died shortly after completing the commission.

 

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THE DEVIL TAKING A SELFIE

 

But Satan did not only help the French with their constructions. He also assisted the Germans with the Cologne Cathedral and built an excellent aqueduct for the Spaniards in Segovia. As usual, he demanded a soul in return. A young woman, tired of carrying water from afar, made a deal with Satan: if he built her an aqueduct by dawn, she would give him her soul. The Devil had to work hard, but by morning, he had fulfilled his part of the bargain.

However, during the night, the girl had second thoughts. Was a soul really worth an aqueduct? She prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose intercession left Lucifer powerless. The girl kept her soul, and Segovia got its water. Reasoning sensibly, the townspeople decided to show gratitude to the trusting but hardworking Satan.

Next to the city bridge, the townspeople erected a statue of Satan. He is seated, holding something in his hand that tourists easily recognize as a smartphone. It is not inconceivable that beating Steve Jobs to it, Satan himself invented the smartphone in Segovia! At the very least, he indeed came up with the idea of selfies first.

The local priests did not appreciate this free-spirited interpretation. They filed a lawsuit demanding the monument’s removal. However, the court — perhaps under diabolical influence — prohibited the demolition of Satan with a smartphone. Even if it had happened, the Spaniards had already prepared a backup.

In 1879, Ricardo Bellver’s Lucifer, after winning a prize at an exhibition in Paris, took up residence in Madrid’s Buen Retiro Park. And, coincidentally, at a satanic height — 666 meters above sea level. Once again, Bellver’s fallen angel turned out to be attractive and not frightening at all.

 

Скульптура Сатаны со смартфоном в Сеговии
Sculpture of Satan with a Smartphone in Segovia / thedailybeast.com

 

THE SATANIC FAMILY

 

The Devil hasn’t been overlooked in the New World either, where he was even given a wife. In Vancouver, Canada, a horned statue appeared one night in 2014. It was red and featured an enormous phallus. Vancouverites liked the constantly ready-for-love Devil statue so much that they decided to make him a character in their annual city show.

However, just before the festivities, the Devil disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. Shortly afterward, a new statue appeared in the same spot — a pregnant, naked Deviless, white in color, with horns and a whip in her hand. Vancouverites assumed she was the wife of the red Devil and began to anticipate the arrival of a red-and-white devil baby.

But the Deviless vanished just as unexpectedly as her spouse. The city hall, responding to the demands of local activists, tried to locate and return the devilish family, but their efforts were in vain.

However, in the neighboring United States, monuments to Lucifer are not disappearing; instead, new ones keep appearing in Michigan, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and more. In 2015, followers of the Satanic Temple installed a 2.7-meter bronze figure with hooves and a goat’s head in Detroit.

For the 700 participants in the ritual, the ticket to the show was an agreement to sell their souls to the Devil. Not all Americans are tolerant of such diabolical art, though.

In Iowa, a former Navy officer knocked Satan off his pedestal, broke off his silver head, and threw it into a trash bin. Lucifer’s revenge was swift: the officer was prosecuted for a «violation of personal rights» and a «hate crime».

 

Статуя Сатане в Детройте
Statue of Satan in Detroit / bbc.com

 

THE SOVIET SUBSTITUTE FOR SATAN

 

Communist atheists also contributed to the sculptural diabolical. According to Danish author Hanning Keller, who published The Red Garden in 1921, the Bolsheviks in the town of Sviyazhsk planned to erect a monument to Lucifer, the first revolutionary in history, unjustly persecuted by God.

However, they reconsidered: in their view, Satan was a fictional character, and a monument to him would only exacerbate the religious obscurantism of the masses. They also rejected Cain’s candidacy for similar reasons.

In the end, they erected a monument to Judas Iscariot, whom they called the «forerunner of the world revolution» and «a man despised by capitalist society for 2,000 years». The paradox is that anti-religious propaganda also declared Christ a fictional character. Thus, a «revolutionary» who betrayed Christ could not claim actual historical existence.

But this did not deter the Bolsheviks. If Keller’s account is accurate and the monument to Judas as a «substitute» for Satan indeed existed, it did not stand for long. It disappeared as mysteriously as the statue in Vancouver.

 

Паломники бросают камни в столб во время символического побивания камнями дьявола, во время ежегодного обряда паломничества Хадж, в Мине недалеко от священного города Мекка, Саудовская Аравия, 2023
Pilgrims throw stones at a pillar during the symbolic stoning of the Devil, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 2023 / mychamplainvalley.com

 

THE BEATING OF SATAN

 

Perhaps the most unusual monument to Satan is located in the Mina Valley near Mecca. Defiling this monument will not land you in court; on the contrary, it will be seen as an act of great piety. Muslims believe that in Mina, Ibrahim (Abraham) encountered Iblis (Satan) three times and stoned him each time. Since then, three stone pillars called jarrah, symbolizing the Prince of Darkness, have stood in the valley.

During the Hajj, Muslims perform the ritual of stoning the Devil, known as the Jamarat. The ritual is complex. First, stones must be collected from the surroundings of Mina, preferably at night, so that Shaitan (Satan) does not notice. Then, seven stones are thrown at the large pillar, followed by a haircut. Subsequently, seven stones are thrown at each of the three pillars.

In total, a pilgrim throws at least 49 stones at Satan. Evidently, Shaitan does not enjoy being pelted with rocks, so he creates obstacles for the faithful. Pilgrims often accidentally hit other pilgrims with stones, and the crush of people has resulted in thousands of deaths.

In 2015, the struggle with Iblis claimed at least 2,400 lives, with people dying in the stampede. To avoid such tragedies, authorities have built walls around the pillars and wide pedestrian bridges. However, these measures still struggle to accommodate the influx of pilgrims, as the number of people wanting to confront Satan increases every year.

 


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