Imagine you are a Europeasant of the Middle Ages. To keep you in your place, and to ensure you do not get any funny ideas, the Church vaunts its power over you, both temporal and spiritual, in ways designed to stun your puny mediaeval mind. Cathedrals can still, sometimes, dominate a modern city skyline – how much grander and awe-inspiring they must have seemed when they dwarfed every other building around them. And the treasures inside! Bright colours, gold and silver, precious stones, glorious riches contrasting so sharply with the filth and muck of your own pitiable existence. Much of the art of course didactic, pictures for the illiterate, shared symbolism easily understood even by the thick-headed.
That is why, you see, when crusaders returned from the Crusades bringing all sorts of exotica from far distant lands, it was obvious what to do with those embalmed crocodiles they carried home. Clearly such a monster was Satanic, the spawn of hell. Thus were crocodiles wrapped in chains and hung from the ceilings of churches and cathedrals, to impress upon the peasants both the awful power and the ineffable mystery of Christ.
Fretful about its evaporating congregations, perhaps the Church of England could revive this sensible practice.
Mr Key is indebted to The Artificial Kingdom : A Treasury Of The Kitsch Experience by Celeste Olalquiaga (Bloomsbury, 1999), wherein he learned about this particular method of church decoration.