The Book of Revelation speaks of the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. These last four things can be seen in Gothic architecture which functioned as a reminder of mortality and spiritual imperishability.


View a Graph of the Four Last Things


A Last Judgment scene was imperatively placed over the central portals of many Gothic churches. Depicting Christ enthroned with Heaven on one side and Hell on the other, the scene served the purpose to remind churchgoers (and passers-by) that they will be judged for the things they do on earth. Death is inevitable, but eternal life is not to those who follow the church’s doctrine. One of the most famous Gothic cathedrals is the Abbey church of St. Denis. The cathedral was originally built in the ninth century but in the twelfth century the abbot Suger undertook an ambitious renovation. The last judgment scene at the Abbey of St. Denis shows St. Denis at the feet of the Judge because he hoped that he could, through God’s mercy and the intercession of the abbey, might be forgiven of his sins and received into heaven.

The inscription on the bronze doors underneath the scene admonishes the visitor "not to stop at the admiration of the preciosity and sumptuousness of the work, but to let its luminous brightness illuminate the mind so that it might ascend ‘to the true light to which Christ is the door.’ ‘How?’ is explained by the golden door; the dull mind rises to the truth with the help of material things. In beholding this light the intellect is resurrected from its submersion in matter."[1]

The Last Judgment was undoubtedly on people’s minds, indeed the outbreak of the plague made many people think that they were living in the end times. People were also concerned with particular judgment, "An illumination by the Rohan Master in the fourteenth century graphically portrays the moment: as the emaciated corpse lies in rigor mortis, the soul-rendered visually by a small, childlike figure-is caught by a fiend who, in turn, is about to be smitten by a sword-wielding angel. An aged and bearded God the Father-holding the sword of justice-looks on with concern, perhaps with compassion. But if the Judge is often severe and the pangs of the damned excruciating, the joy of the blessed is delectable.[2]






[1] Otto Von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral, (New York, 1956) p. 114-115.

[2] Lillian Bisson, Chaucer and the Late Medieval World, (New York, 1998) p. 16.