Key’s Cupboard : Mediaeval Crocodiles

Key's Cupboard

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.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

10 thoughts on “Key’s Cupboard : Mediaeval Crocodiles

    ian russell
    October 29, 2010 at 09:12

    good god, is it true?

    In these consumerist times, I think they should promote the positive aspects of what they’re selling. I’d like to see red and green glasses on pews and a 3D feel good movie of god in his heaven, followed by new, improved, special offers, an after christmas sale, reduced eco-packaging, and, perhaps, a loyalty card would be nice.

  2. Worm
    October 29, 2010 at 09:27

    yes, and maybe a Greggs in the foyer

  3. Gaw
    October 29, 2010 at 09:55

    I think they should hang in chains from the ceiling a life-size Darth Vader.

  4. Worm
    October 29, 2010 at 10:15

    and a Gary Glitter

    October 29, 2010 at 10:18

    “designed to stun your puny mediaeval mind”

    At the risk of overreacting, the post-enlightenment view of the medieval mind as a fearful place of superstition and limited vision has always annoyed me. You only have to read Shakespeare and Chaucer to realise that it is a falsehood. The only difference between us and them is, possibly, that they had a more highly developed sense of the ridiculous. Otherwise it is just a bunch of Whigs and moderns bigging themselves up with tales of their assumed superiority to all who built their civilisation.

    October 29, 2010 at 10:50

    Well, better stuffed crocs in chains than people dangling from the roof, I suppose. I wonder if Jesus knew what a crocodile was or ever saw one? A croc caused a plane to crash a few days ago after escaping from some luggage. The passengers fled to the front of the aircraft and the shift in weight sent it out of control. Perhaps in a few hundred years, readers (if any are left) will consider this primo superstition since it wasn’t, apparently, a very big croc and could likely have been subdued without much trouble. Instead, fear took hold and the superstitious instincts of crowds did the rest. I’d like to think the “medieval mind” would have taken a more robust view and simply knocked the beast out, perhaps using a handy butt of sack, until the plane had landed.

  7. October 29, 2010 at 10:51

    Recusant, you are absolutely correct. However, those familiar with my work will know that it is not merely the brains of mediaeval persons which are termed puny, but those of sundry others, including – repeatedly – my own.

    ian russell
    October 29, 2010 at 12:30

    Of course, he did, Mark. How do you imagine he walked upon the water? (I saw Roger Moore do it that way the other night…) But there’s no mention of a kangeroo.

  9. Gaw
    October 29, 2010 at 14:22

    Wasn’t Behemoth a crocodile?

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