On Francis of Assisi and the Soul After Death

Death and Ascension of Francis of Assisi

I toured Italy for two weeks and Assisi was one of the scheduled stops so I got the opportunity to see this peculiar fresco pretty closely. Our tour guide pointed out the recent discovery of a demonic face in the cloud beneath the ascending Roman Catholic saint. I asked the guide the significance of the demonic image and she stated that it symbolized an old belief that held that demons in the air tried to impede souls on their way to heaven.

Despite the objections of a minority within the U.S., Orthodoxy can claim to have taught this belief universally for 2,000 years and many contemporary Saints and prominent teachers have taught it as well. Fr. Seraphim Rose was highly criticized for his book The Soul After Death where he taught the patristic post-mortem teaching. Whereas, Fr. Peter Alban Heers, who resides in Thessaloniki, Greece states: “In America, Fr. Seraphim, although venerated by many and with many miracles associated with his life after his repose, is sometimes seen as controversial because of his writings, especially on the soul after death. He is seen as controversial or just plain wrong. Whereas here in Greece, a traditional Orthodox country, we see that this book, The Soul After Death, has been the most positively received of all the books Fr. Seraphim has written.”

For a complete treatment of this particular topic, purchase Jean-Claude Larchet’s comprehensive work Life After Death According to the Orthodox Tradition.

Read the article below and see the images to observe how the Orthodox teaching on the intermediate state must have persisted in the West even after the Schism.

Smirking Face of the Devil Discovered in Giotto Fresco

The smirking face of the Devil has been discovered hidden in a fresco by the Italian medieval artist Giotto after remaining undetected for more than 700 years in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi.

by Nick Squires

The Satanic image went unnoticed until now because it is artfully hidden in the folds of a cloud and is invisible from ground level.

The discovery of the face, in a fresco which depicts the death of St Francis, was made by Chiara Frugoni, a medievalist and an expert on the saint.

“It’s a powerful portrait, with a hooked nose, sunken eyes and two dark horns,” Ms Frugoni said in an article in a forthcoming issue of the St Francis art history periodical.

“The significance of the image still needs to be delved into. In the Middle Ages it was believed that demons lived in the sky and that they could impede the ascension of human souls to Heaven.”

Demonic face in the cloud

“Until now it was thought that the first painter to use clouds in this way was Andrea Mantegna, with a painting of St Sebastian from 1460, in which high up in the sky there’s a cloud from which a knight on horseback emerges. Now we know that Giotto was the first (to use this technique).”

Sergio Fusetti, the head of the restoration work in the basilica, said the devil face may have been a dig at somebody the artist had quarrelled with.

Claudio Strinati, an art historian, said it was not unusual for Renaissance artists to include hidden meanings in their works. “Paintings often had two facets – an explicit one and an implicit one.”

Millions of pilgrims and tourists have trooped through the basilica in Assisi, in Umbria, since the fresco was painted in the 13th century without noticing the devil’s face.

Close-up of the demonic face in the cloud discovered by medievalist expert Chiara Frugoni.

It was only discovered during restoration of the fresco, the 20th in a series of images of St Francis’s life and death by Giotto.

Comments

  1. Thank you for your website. I wanted to contribute to your research and I decided that this post is just as good as any on the topic of Fr. Rose’s book The Soul After Death. You have amalgamated a great collection of sources on the discussion of the Orthodox teaching of the journey of the soul after death. Here is another piece of information on another extant artifact of Roman Catholic teaching on the post-mortem sojourn of the soul that is similar to Fr. Rose’s The Soul After Death:

    In Northern England there used to be sung a hymn called the Lyke Wake Dirge. Online articles today present it as a “superstition” of when “people used to believe that the soul hung around the body for a period of time” (very similar to Seraphim’s writings). Actually, Seraphim did not compose anything new, but you could say he tried his best to put all the pieces together. He explains in the book that the soul seems to hang around the body for a time, escorted by angels, before it travels “through the tolls.”

    The Lyke Wake Dirge is sung for the soul of the departed prior to burial asking “Christ to receive thy soul.” It depicts the soul’s terrible journey through many tumultuous places before reaching (in this case) Purgatory. People say that this dirge was was sung to “remind” the soul of what was to soon happen to it, but I see it rather as an intercessory prayer for the departed to help the soul on its post-mortem journey.

    I hope you can comment on this piece of Catholic ontology of life after death and how well it compares to Orthodox teaching: the soul lingers around the body, the departed soul benefits from the intercessions of the living, and the post-mortem experience of the Christian soul is more complicated than evangelical understanding of one either immediately goes to either Heaven or Hell and that it. While we all could blog about what we would like the after life experience to be like, I believe you website is doing a proper job in bringing forth the Orthodox teachings on this subject and demonstrating how the Roman and Byzantine after-death ontology used to generally belong to the same school of thought….the same Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

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