An ivory image of the Last Judgement from c. 800, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is the earliest known image of the mouth of Hell, which quickly became a ubiquitous element of Last Judgement iconography throughout the Middle Ages. Although the mouth of Hell is frequently considered as a bestial monster, this first example is in fact a human head. In this paper, I would like to explore how this affects our understanding of the mouth of Hell, and the way in which a cannibalistic image conveys the fear of psychosomatic fragmentation that characterised damnation.
This paper examines how the scholastic term synderesis (the innate and infallible knowledge of moral principles) was used to explain the psychological suffering of the damned in Hell in 13th-century scholasticism and late medieval vernacular literature. This idea was synthesised with the Augustinian notion of the worm of conscience, gnawing the consciences of the damned souls, by reminding them of their sins. Late medieval authors, in particular Guillaume de Deguileville, used this idea in moralising narratives, and turned the abstract concept of synderesis into a character that was often depicted in medieval manuscripts. The concept of synderesis thus offers us an example of the intersection between scholastic theology and vernacular literature.