The Punishment of the Clerk

And at the last his bowels fell out… 
by the same death perished Antiochus Epiphanes, and Herod Agrippa.    
[Clark’s Commentary 2 Chr 21]

It is impossible, even in Latin, to give the account of the miraculous punishments
inflicted on the murderer and the wife. 

[Sabine Baring-Gould]

The aforesaid clerk… having perpetrated his wicked act, immediately took flight. 
And, as if he had been the bearer of tidings of the greatest joy,
he made his way in haste to that woman hateful in the sight of God,
ignorant that his own destruction was at hand.

After they had celebrated in a dance of misplaced joy,
he sought the retirement of the garderobe, in order to empty his bowels. 
And presently, as he was answering the call of nature,
exactly after the example of Judas the traitor
(who had had Christ’s human nature put to death)
and of Arius the heresiarch
(who tried to divide the unseparable unity of the Trinity),
his bowels poured out. 

Just as he had been devoid of compassion, so now he was devoid of bowels.
And so the wretched creature  –  all opportunity of repentance being denied him  – 
plunged into the cesspit of hell.   [Vita I]

Whereas in Vita I the bowels are explicitly used as an image of compassion, an image which is found throughout the Old and New Testaments, Hroswitha employs the image differently understanding them as the seat of lust:

But as he did not acknowledge the bounds of lawful love,       
so his retribution likewise knows no constraint.
But suddenly by heavenly intervention his bowels  –
which lately had been bloated with satisfaction  –  gushed out,
and so the wretch was overthrown by the avenging hand of God,
and lost the adultress whom he had purchased by Gengulph’s death.   [Hroswitha]

This episode has not frequently recommended itself for artistic representation. One of the panels of C13th stained glass which form the magnificent ‘Cycle of St Gengoult’ in the collegiate church of St Gengoult at Toul, however, contains a graphic depiction of this unusual scene. The clerk is portrayed seated at the garderobe, with his robe hitched up and his drawers around his ankles, whilst his bowels are expelled. His imminent descent into the ‘cesspit of hell’ is alluded to by the presence of a crouching devil who assists the extraction with a rake. See the top image below:

The top image from the Toul Cycle illustrates the punishment of the Clerk. The underlying image illustrates the murder of St. Gengoult by the Clerk.

The above colour image is, unfortunately, not a very sharp and clear one. A much better black/white image made in the C19th century and illustrated in M. Parsons Lillich’s book on stained glass in the Lorraine has been found online. Sharp black/white C19th images of 14 of the 15 windows of the Toul Cycle are here.

© Paul Trenchard
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Page last revised 01.04.08