Satan, San Petronio and Bologna

This image of Satan absorbs what the church wanted to condemn and politically control: not just the pagan background of Europe, but specifically the rural and aboriginal faith in the circularity of nature and the self-regeneration of the whole countryside (that is the regeneration of the means of production themselves). The idea of the eternal return of life – with no divine intervention, no Genesis and no Apocalypse, but rather an alchemic and gastronomic cycle of digestion and regeneration – had to be excommunicated and personified in the pansexual body of a cannibalistic Satan.

This fresco in the church of San Petronio in Bologna, dated 1410, depicts Satan in a fashion quite characteristic of the imaginary of the Middle Ages. The Devil is a gigantic beast devouring human souls. At the same time he is giving birth to them through a second mouth-vagina between his legs, in a circular damnation and movement of ingestion-defecation-rebirth which reminds of the uncanny symmetry of the bicephalous Roman god Janus. 


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