The Vision of Heaven and Hell by Irish Knight Tundale Part 1

(The following account of one such vision was written in 1149 by an Irish monk and was enormously popular in the Middle Ages, being translated into no less than fifteen different languages and being the subject of many paintings. Part of its popularity was that the witness was an unabashed sinner, an Irish knight who was well on the burning road to hell before he had this transforming vision. One day he collapsed, having eaten something poisonous or drugged, and had every appearance of being dead. Only a mysterious warmth on his left side prevented his immediate burial. He lay in this state for three days during which time his soul was met by his guardian angel who took him through both Heaven and hell)

As the spirit of Tundale stood in great confusion and dread, he saw an awesome collection of foul fiends rampaging towards him with mouths gaping like a pack of wild wolves. He wanted to flee for his life but had no idea how to do so. The fiends arrived and Tundale, understandably terrified, expected to be torn to pieces by them. To look at them was to move beyond fear; their bodies were black and dirty and the ground shook as they growled horribly. Their eyes were wide and sparkled like fire as though they were consumed with rage. Their huge open mouths spat out flames. They were filled with fire. Their lips hung beneath their chins exposing long teeth and wide throats, and their tongues hung out at the side, like a dog’s. On their feet and hands they had great claws and horny pads and their tails were sodden and poisonous. Their claws were as keen as sharpened steel – no man could feel any sharper – and from these creatures came the foulest stink that anyone could imagine! They clawed at each other’s faces and inflicted horrific wounds upon one another. Then they grimly cast their eyes upon Tundale and roared in unison: ‘Let’s set about this wicked ghost who has always given a willing ear to our counsel and done as we have urged! Let’s sing him a song of death, for he is one of ours!’

The fiends crowded around Tundale and shouted: ‘You wretched, sinful creature, there is a place in hell reserved for you, for you are one of us now! You are a daughter of Death. 1∩ Eternal fire shall befriend you. Darkness shall be your companion and light shall be your enemy. You have lied and deceived. You love conflict, as we all do. You have had sex with married women! Every vice imaginable is ingrained into your character! You could have mended your ways while you lived but you chose not to. And where is all your wealth now? Where is your gold and your treasure? What good can it do you now? All the wealth on Earth, and all the prayers that may be said for your soul, all the Matins and Masses, cannot save you now from the pain of hell and eternal damnation!

‘You concealed your sins from the Church and confessed nothing. Therefore you must come with us! Your life has shown you to be one of us, you villain! Come with us then, to eternal damnation!’

The ghost of Tundale stood; it was as dark as night, but then a bright star appeared. Tundale gazed at the star and found comfort in its light, for he felt a glimmer of hope as he thought upon God’s mercy. The star took on the form of Tundale’s guardian angel.

The angel approached and greeted him courteously. ‘Tundale,’ he said, ‘what are you doing here?’

When he heard the shining angel speak his name, Tundale was very happy and cried: ‘Sweet father, mercy! For my sins, these fiends are trying to lead me to the fires of hell!’

‘You call me father and lord now,’ replied the angel, ‘but why did you not before? I was beside you morning and evening, and have been ever since you were born, but you would not listen to me or do anything I asked.’

‘Lord, I have never seen you before,’ insisted Tundale. ‘I have never heard you say anything.’

The mighty angel fearlessly approached one of the fiends. ‘Tundale,’ he called, ‘this is the hideous and terrifying creature that you have always listened to. You have guided your life by its will and by nothing of mine. But God’s mercy might still save you, although you don’t deserve it and you shall not earn it without a hard struggle.’

Tundale was relieved to hear this, although he was afterwards put sorely to the test, for he came among dreadful suffering and shared in much of it, so that he could better recall things from bitter experience when he came back into his body. The angel brought Tundale out of that place, for he thought he had been frightened enough. When the fiends saw that Tundale was escaping from them they began to roar and scream and cried dreadful oaths against God: ‘You are unjust!’ they cried. ‘You deceive and mislead! You said you would bring a man a swift reward according to his deserts! Tundale is ours by right! He has lived a wicked life and served us unfailingly. If we have to leave him here, you wrong us!’

They roared out their anger and frustration, bit and scratched one another and released such a stink that no earthly man has ever smelt its like!

The angel turned to Tundale. Follow me,’ he said quickly.

‘Then it will be the last you will ever see of me!’ replied Tundale. ‘These fiends will seize me from behind and carry me off to hellfire!’

‘Don’t worry about them,’ replied the angel. ‘They are not able to take you from me. However many you think are here, there are in fact a great many more still, and with equally sharp claws, but while God walks with us they can do us no harm.’

When the angel had finished speaking he led Tundale through a dark tunnel. There was no light except for that which the angel himself emitted and soon they came into a gloomy valley. What Tundale saw there worried him greatly and he shook with anxiety as he studied the dismal landscape and smelt the stench that filled the air. The ground was an expanse of burning coals and over the hot coals was laid iron that was glowing red from the heat; the bars of metal rose to the height of a man and the flames passed through them as though designed to inflict the severest pain from the intense heat it gave to the iron and the acrid stench of carbon and sulphur. Nothing before had ever frightened Tundale so much as this sight did, for fiends were laying souls out upon the iron and these souls were consumed in the stinking heat and melted like wax in a pan and the molten liquid passed through the iron and the coals like paraffin through a cloth to be collected and re-formed and put back by the fiends onto the iron once more for the torment to begin afresh.

‘Here is a place of great distress,’ said the angel. ‘These souls have all been guilty of murder or complicity to murder. There is no release from this agony and it shall have no end for them, although their torment is not confined only to what you see here. You may still escape this pain yourself, although you have well deserved it.

They moved on and came to a great mountain and here Tundale heard cries of distress. One side of the mountain, it seemed, was alight; there was smoke and fire and it stank of tar and sulphur. On the other side of the mountain the ground was covered with thick snow and ice and the air was lashed by blizzards. Tundale saw many wicked fiends filling the air with their roars and yells and they held tongs and forks in their hands and red-hot iron skewers which they used to prod at the wretched souls, snatching them out of the fire and thrusting them towards the cold snow, then out of the snow and back again into the fire. And so their pain alternated from burning to freezing and back again to burning.

‘This is the punishment allotted to thieves,’ explained the angel, ‘and to those who rob or take things away against the owner’s will through deception or fraud, or in other ways manage to dupe a man into parting with his lawful possessions.

When they had seen all this torment, they continued further on their journey.

The angel led the way and Tundale followed behind him, fearful and afraid, until they came to another valley. It was dark and deep and Tundale’s soul was apprehensive when he saw it for he had seen nothing like it on Earth. The floor of the depression was so far beneath them that it was hidden from sight, but they could hear the cries and screams of burning souls coming from below. Out of the great pit came a horrible stench of tar and sulphur and it seemed to Tundale to be by far the most evil place that he had ever been.

On the other side of the pit stood another mountain and across the gorge hung a bridge that was a thousand yards long and barely a foot wide. This bridge shook so much that it seemed impossible for any man to cross it safely, be he learned or ignorant, or any woman; none except perhaps a holy man who had led a perfect life. Tundale saw many souls falling off this bridge. The only person he saw cross successfully was a priest who had been on pilgrimage; he was holding a palm frond and, just as he had in life, so in death he trod a difficult path with only himself for company.

Tundale said to the angel: ‘I have never been so scared. There is no possibility that I could ever cross this bridge!’

“Don’t worry,” replied the angel. “You shall avoid this punishment, although many others lie in store for you. This grievous torment is reserved for the over-proud and the boastful.” And the angel quickly took Tundale by the hand and led him across, much to his relief.

They continued their way together down a long, dark path, and Tundale’s soul had no idea where the journey was leading. But at last they came into the light and Tundale saw a vast and fearsome thing; a huge boar that was bigger than any mountain he had ever seen; the span of its eyes was wider than a valley! Nine thousand men could easily ride into its mouth and between its tusks hung two giants! Tundale could see the head of one of the giants dangling down and the feet of another, and the centre of the boar’s mouth was held apart with two pillars in such a way that it formed an entrance like three open gates. Vast flames of fire issued from its mouth and such a horrible smell that it is impossible to imagine it or to describe. Within, they could hear the anguished cries of thousands of souls screaming and lamenting: ‘God help us!’ they cried. ‘Have we deserved this?’ Many thousands of eager devils hovered in front of the boar’s mouth, busying themselves and using their strength with burning rods to shepherd souls towards this place of torment.

When Tundale saw this creature and the evil spirits around its mouth and heard the hideous cries coming from within, he turned to the angel and said: ‘What does this horrible sight mean?’

‘This beast is called Acheron,’ replied the angel. ‘You will have to go through it if we are to continue our journey. None may pass unscathed from this punishment except those who have led a clean and perfect life. This huge beast, I have to tell you, swallows all covetous men, all those who in life were never content with what they had but whose pride drove them to seize more and more, which they will now have ample time to regret. It is written in the Bible that a beast shall swallow the covetous. This beast has such a craving that every drop of water that has ever swelled the rivers of the Earth could not satisfy its thirst. This torment is therefore suitable for those who have never been satisfied with what they have and never thought that God had given them enough. And those giants that you see hanging between the boar’s tusks, they did not believe in the word of God but followed their own law, and they were called Fergus mac Roi and Conall Cernach who figure in the Ulster Cycle of pagan Irish legend.’

‘Alas!’ replied Tundale. ‘What torment they must be going through if they have to dangle there forever.’

‘I wouldn’t gloat,’ replied the angel, ‘for you have lived like them.’

As the angel said this, they approached so near to the creature that they stood before it, much to Tundale’s concern. Then the angel disappeared suddenly. Tundale was petrified with fear! The fiends came quickly and bound him up, then cast him into the beast’s mouth. He was beaten by evil spirits, his bones were gnawed at by hungry lions and his vital organs pulled out by dragons. Venomous snakes consumed his limbs. Fire burned him, then ice froze him. His tears stung his cheeks like fire. He was full of woe! There was a strong stink of sulphur. He was tormented in many ways. He tore at his own cheeks with his nails! For each sin he had ever committed he was punished. Nothing was hidden. Despair was his constant companion. He could see no hope of escape.

But suddenly Tundale was released. He had no idea how it happened, but he was very pleased that it had. One moment all hope had been abandoned and the next he found himself free. He lay for a while as though dead and then raised himself into a sitting position. The angel was standing in front of him. The light from the angel comforted him and when the angel touched Tundale he gave him strength and made him well. Then Tundale wept for the love of God.

And so they passed that place of torment. But there were more to come.

The pair of them continued upon their journey until they came to a dreadful lake. The waves towered above them and the crash of the water was deafening. Within the lake there were huge beasts with large eyes that burned like lamps at night as they roared and made the water bubble furiously around them. These creatures waited on either side to swallow the souls that were their main prey; for over the lake hung a long, narrow bridge – it was two miles in length and it seemed to Tundale to be scarcely the width of a hand. Set into it were sharp spikes of iron and steel that were grievous to touch. No one could cross that bridge without sustaining severe injuries to his feet!

The hideous creatures in the lake drew closer to the bridge in hope born of experience; they were huge and they fed upon falling souls. Tundale saw fire coming from their mouths and all the water around them boiled. The noise they made was appalling!

On the bridge Tundale noticed a figure on the far side with a sack of corn on his back. The man was groaning piteously and lamenting all his sins. The spikes cut harshly at his feet but his greatest fear was the creatures in the water, who were waiting expectantly for their meal.

Tundale asked the bright angel: ‘What does this awful bridge mean?’

‘It is for those who have robbed and taken men’s property,’ the angel replied, ‘be they common men or learned scholars, and those who have stolen from Holy Church. But some have more torment and some less, depending upon the gravity of their sins. Some have not balked at burning down a church! Others are fickle and disloyal. Some rob from churches, which is termed sacrilege. Those who have committed crimes within a church or desecrated a place of sanctuary, all these shall receive their punishment here. The man on the bridge you can see carrying the sheaves of corn and crying out in distress, he stole the corn from Holy Church, for they were taxes he owed and did not pay. You see how much they cost him now!

‘You shall cross this bridge leading a nervous cow. Watch out for her footing and be careful as you lead her. When you have completed the crossing you may give her back to me. This punishment is for stealing a cow.’

‘Mercy!’ replied Tundale. ‘Lord, have mercy! Even if I did steal the heifer, the friend I stole her from got her back in the end.’

‘That is true – you were unable to keep what you had taken and because of this, your torment shall be less than it might have been. But every wicked deed is punished, however small, and God is just as mindful to punish evil intent as he is to punish a successful felony.’

As Tundale stood there anxiously, a wild cow was brought up. Regardless of the distress he felt, Tundale was obliged to take hold of the cow. Unwillingly, he did as the angel instructed, took the cow by the horns, manoeuvred her carefully towards the crossing and began to lead her across the bridge.

When they set foot upon the structure, the cow refused to shift. Tundale saw the creatures in the lake move ever closer to the bridge in expectation of a swift meal. The cow nearly toppled over into the water and Tundale almost fell over the other side. He was beyond fear. Slowly and painfully he made his way with the cow to the centre of the crossing, sometimes with the cow leading, sometimes him. They were both terrified.

Then they met with the person who was carrying the corn. Both now knew that they were lost, for the bridge was too narrow for them to go past one another. The anguish of both was extreme for neither could turn around and neither dared to even look behind him! The sharp points that they had to walk on made their feet bleed so much that the blood dripped down into the lake! The man carrying the sheaf of corn begged Tundale to let him pass.

‘Let me by,’ he wept, ‘for there is no way that I can get past you unless you move aside.’ They both wept, for it was impossible for them to proceed.

As Tundale stood holding the cow, the angel appeared beside him. Then he found himself on dry land once more.

‘Let the cow go,’ said the angel. ‘Be assured, you don’t need to lead her any more.’ Tundale showed the angel his feet. ‘I cannot go a step further!’ he sobbed.

‘Let this be a warning of the difficulty of your path,’ replied the angel. Then he touched Tundale’s feet and instantly the wounds healed.

‘Thank you!’ exclaimed Tundale.

‘You will soon find that another great anguish awaits us,’ replied the angel, ‘and from this one there will be no escape! You must come with me, for you have no other choice.’

Tundale and the angel continued their journey, through dark ways and wilderness, until they came to a building that was as large and as high as a mountain. It was built like an oven with a wide mouth at the front and from this aperture great flames emerged, shooting a thousand feet across the ground into crowds of souls that the evil spirits had brought before it, burning them all to nothing.

Tundale turned to the angel and said: ‘This is a dreadful place – it looks like the very gates of Death. Please tell me that I don’t have to spend an eternity here!’

‘You shall not spend an eternity here,’ the good angel reassured him.

‘God would have given great power,’ said Tundale, ‘to the person who could deliver me from this place.’

‘Don’t be frightened,’ replied the angel. ‘But you must go into this building, although the fire shall not harm you.’

As Tundale approached nearer to this great structure, he could see butchers standing in the midst of the flames; some were holding sharp knives and fearsome cleavers, others were wielding saws, forks for skewering meat over a fire, broad axes and instruments designed to drill holes into bone. They made an engaging sight! Some held very long knives and others, sharp hooks. Tundale looked on with horror at the way these fiends butchered the souls. Some struck off the head, others the thighs, arms, legs at the knees, and some hacked the souls into pieces. Yet they were all soon restored back again into their original shapes, only to be seized once more by the butchers! Tundale was horrified at this punishment.

‘Deliver me from this terror!’ he cried to the angel. ‘I implore you! I have never seen anything like it! I will suffer anything else you want me to, anything at all!’

‘You think this torment is dreadful,’ replied the angel, ‘but, nevertheless, you are required to endure it, as you shall be many others, as you will soon discover.’

The hideousness of this punishment affected Tundale more than that of any of the others he had seen. But there was worse to come! For within the fire that raged inside this evil building Tundale caught sight of a terrifying dog. The sight petrified him. Tundale pleaded with the angel to let him escape from this frightening hell. But the angel was unyielding.

Evil spirits approached Tundale with their grim tools and terrifying equipment, seized him and chopped him into little pieces. But he could not die and soon found that his body was restored once again. Tundale heard a cacophony of howling and groaning while he was there. The fire that he had seen streaking out from the building burnt up everything within and all the souls were ravenous with hunger for there was nothing to eat but dry ash. Tundale saw many in this place who had had their genitals eaten away and he saw clergymen who were riddled with parasites and vermin; their limbs were bitten and raw and there were grubs and parasites eating away inside them! Tundale personally recognised some of those who were there and knew that they had deserved this fate. But soon he found himself looking at the building from the outside once more. He did not know how he had escaped from it, but he was very happy to have done so! He next found himself standing in a dark place called the Cauldron of Dread. He could see nothing but his angel standing before him.

‘Alas!’ he said. ‘Where is the truth of the saying that God’s mercy surpasses all things? I have seen no sign of it!’

‘That saying deceives many,’ replied the angel, ‘and I will explain it to you. Although God is full of mercy, he is constrained to do the proper thing. But he forgives wickedness more often than ever he finds goodness and wisdom. The torments you have suffered here have been lenient compared to those you have deserved.’

Tundale knelt and thanked God that he had escaped from these torments so quickly!

‘Who would pay any heed to God,’ continued the angel, ‘if He were always to forgive a man his sins without any pain of punishment? A man would never need to do any good if this was the case. But those who are sinful and have done no penance but who are repentant shall receive no vengeance from God. Through His mercy they shall be saved. And yet their souls shall feel pain for the sins they have committed. Often God will cause a man’s possessions to be taken from him so that his pain can be reduced when he gets here. For if a man knows the benefit of poverty and thanks God for it, then his soul shall suffer the less when he dies and he shall soon say farewell to all pain and achieve everlasting bliss. But there is no one in the world who is so good nor so perfect, not even a new-born baby, that he shall not have to endure some torment in purgatory. But he who is eager to love God shall escape much of it, and certainly more than the man who is damned to hell for his wickedness. The damned shall be able to see such joy in heaven that no greater comfort could be imagined, but they will not be able to experience any of it, and this shall bring them more pain and anguish than all the terrors of hell put together. But that priest who had been a palmer and whom you saw crossing the bridge, he saw all the punishments but had to experience none of them for he always loved God and served him well, and has been rewarded. He shall not miss the joys of Paradise and he shall find exalted bliss!’

When the angel had said all this to strengthen Tundale’s heart, he led him forwards as Tundale followed hesitantly behind.

Soon, they came upon a hideous creature that filled Tundale with terror. It seemed more evil and dangerous than anything he had seen before, with two enormous black wings and with claws of iron and steel protruding from its feet. Its neck was long and slender but held a huge head in which burned two red eyes, set wide apart, and its mouth was wide and spat fire in a seemingly inextinguishable stream. Its nose was tipped with iron!

The beast sat in the middle of a frozen lake swallowing terrified souls which burned inside its body until they were nearly wasted away. But then they were expelled from this horror in the creature’s excrement and left until they had recovered and become whole once again. They were sorely bruised from this ordeal and cried out in pain, just like a woman in childbirth, and suffered greatly for their sins. But then things began to bite at them from the inside; snakes and rats! When they understood what was happening, they made such a huge and terrified lamentation that the noise of it filled all of hell! Never has such a noise been heard from men and women before.

But a moment of unimaginable horror could not be avoided. The snakes inside them prepared to emerge. They did so not only from the private parts but from every limb, head and feet, back and side; they slid through abdomen and chest, and through every joint, and made their exit all at once, sparing neither flesh nor bones. They were long, with iron heads and had tails with barbs, and when their tails became caught because of the barbs, as they pulled themselves through the holes that they had made, they turned their heads inward and gnawed at the flesh and bone, exposing all the joints and biting until all the insides had been consumed, thrusting their heads in and out. But still their tails were caught, until the soul’s whole body was alive with a writhing, gnawing, flaying and tormenting such that the screams of terror might have risen up to heaven itself, so hideous it all was! The souls cried in anguish and lamented their foolishness and their sins. But they were not delivered from this pain; the cycle was renewed and they had to endure it again and again!

‘Lord, this is a dreadful sight,’ said Tundale to the angel. ‘I think this is worse than anything I have ever seen.’

‘This torment is ordained for men of religion who have strayed from their profession,’ replied the angel. ‘Monks, clerics, priests and canons and other men and women of Holy Church who have indulged their carnal desires and enjoyed other such delights, ignoring the strictures of their order and leading their lives as they wish. They shall suffer for this for eternity if they do not mend their ways before it is too late. And for the same crimes that you have committed, you shall suffer this as well.’

As the angel finished speaking, the fiends led Tundale inside the hideous creature and here he burned in a fierce heat for a long time and suffered dreadful torment.

But at last the creature expelled Tundale and he swelled up as though he would burst, he was so full of worms and snakes pressed tightly together inside him that only their hideous escape could release them. But then Tundale saw the angel standing patiently before him. The angel touched Tundale with his hand and brought him out of this nightmare.

‘Come with me,’ the angel said. ‘And follow close behind, for it is required that you should witness still more pain.’ They travelled onwards, and Tundale took no pleasure from the journey. He found himself travelling through darkness; it was unpleasant for there was nothing to see by at all, except for the light which the angel emitted. They continued their way without interruption for a long while and it was the worst journey that Tundale had ever taken, for the path was so difficult and it descended so steeply, down narrow steps as though into a gorge. The longer Tundale followed, the less sure he was that the path had any end to it at all. The air had become bad and he began to fear for his safety.

‘Where does this path lead?’ asked Tundale nervously, with tears in his eyes.

‘I will tell you where this path leads and where it ends. It goes to the Place of Death.’ replied the angel.

‘How can this be?’ answered Tundale. In the Bible it is written that the road to Death is large and broad. This is a narrow path that you are leading me down.’

‘The Bible speaks of the way of uncleanness and debauchery,’ said the angel. ‘That road is easy to follow, but it is not the only way to everlasting death.’

And so they continued along the dark and lonely path until at last they came to the bottom of the deep valley. Tundale stood aghast at what he saw! It was full of smithies. Evil-looking blacksmiths were holding great hammers in their hands and hot glowing tongs, casting distraught and weeping souls into the forges and then taking them out again and beating them on the anvils with their hammers. The master of the smithy was the Roman god Vulcan and, like all the others, smoke was coming from his mouth.

‘Look there!’ said the angel. ‘That devious fiend has lured many into sin! And for that they shall be tormented in this place when they die.’

‘Will I have to suffer here?’ asked Tundale.

‘I’m afraid so,’ replied the angel.

Tundale was led to the smithy. Two of the smiths came running up with glowing tongs and white-hot pokers in their hands; they grabbed at Tundale and led him into a place of grim torture. Tundale was thrown into a forge that was glowing white, orange and blue. Air was blown from a great bellows until the furnace was hot enough to melt iron. Tundale began to burn, he and thousands of others, for souls were cast into these flames a thousand at a time. Many were turned to steam, others to molten lead or to white-hot iron. Then with iron hammers the devils laid into them as though they were mad! They threw a thousand souls at a time into a long quenching trough just as men temper iron and steel, and that was a grisly pain to feel. This torment was very prolonged, and yet, they could not fully die. These fiends, black and dirty from the coal and the iron, each consulted with his fellows how he could best inflict the most grievous harm – they did not tire of their work. Each ingot was smashed open and the souls released once again and each passed into the next smithy. ‘Have you taken from these souls all that you want?’ they would cry. ‘Throw them over here, then, and let me see what I can do with them.’

They roared and screamed and gesticulated, urging the souls to be handed over, receiving them with hooks and red-hot tongs. They thought they were not worked enough! The devils thrust them into and out of the furnace, burning them in hot flames until they were almost fully consumed.

After a while, Tundale was released from this terror, much to the displeasure of Vulcan and his fiendish blacksmiths. All the other souls, however, had to remain where they were.

When Tundale came away from this horror, he soon recovered and quickly heard the angel’s voice again. The angel asked him how he was: ‘And now you can see,’ he said, ‘how well your sins have served you. Great anguish lies in store for you for your follies and wicked delights. All those who were there with you, and who remain there still, are those whom you followed. Let their fate be a lesson to you.’

Tundale could not say a word but stood there, speechless.

“But take comfort from this thought,’ said the angel. ‘If you have witnessed suffering up to now, and have been forced to taste some yourself, know that greater suffering still awaits you, but you shall survive it all. Some souls you see will not be so lucky, and will lie in pain that lasts forever. Their misdeeds have caused them to be damned for all time and their cry is one of everlasting lamentation. Those who seek God’s mercy are certain to avoid that fate.’

When the angel had said all this, he laid his hand upon Tundale. Then Tundale was healed and felt fully recovered. But yet, onwards they went.

Soon, a great darkness descended, a great blackness and the air suddenly became very cold, so cold that Tundale could scarcely walk. He was very nearly frozen to death. Frightened and in great and sudden pain, he trembled so much through cold and terror that he could feel his whole head shaking and his teeth chattering. All the agony he had ever felt before, he thought, had been nothing compared to this.

‘What is happening?’ he stammered. ‘My hands and feet won’t work. I cannot walk!’

The angel said nothing.

Tundale wept and was very frightened. The angel moved away.

When Tundale could no longer see ahead of him, he tried to make his way forwards as best he could. He knew he was on the road to hell.

Soon he began to hear the piteous cries of souls who were suffering eternal damnation for their sins and wickedness. Thunder cracked. No heart can conceive, and no tongue can tell, how hideous are the noises that he heard. The soul of Tundale stood in great dread, shooting his gaze nervously about, expecting every sharp crack to herald the fresh arrival of fiends coming to seize him. In the flash of the lightening he could see that he stood beside a deep pit from which rose a flame that stank so much that it made him feel sick. He tried to move away from it but could achieve nothing now except to begin to discern that from out of the pit rose a tall, round pillar that stretched high up into the sky towards heaven. Flames were licking along its length on all sides and around the pillar were fiends and souls flying, low and high, up and down, like the sparkles from a bonfire in a wind. And when the souls were all burnt to ashes, they fell back into the pit. Here they recovered and made another attempt to fly up the pole, and in this way was their torture ever renewed. Tundale would far have preferred that the Earth could have returned again, but out of his terror came the fear that he could not return; he could not move his legs, he could only stand there, crippled with cold and paralysed with fear and nearly insane with dread. He tore at his own cheeks in distress and anguish at the thought that he could not go back to the world that he knew.

‘Alas!’ he cried. ‘What can I do? For now I know that I am dead!’

The wicked spirits, as they flew about the pillar, heard Tundale’s cries of dismay and swept down upon him. They carried burning hooks that had been specially made to torment souls.

‘Ah, a fine wretch!’ they cried. ‘You have made a good journey to visit us, but where have you come from? Your foolishness and your wickedness certainly qualify you to burn in these fires, and you have not yet felt real pain, for here we will destroy you properly. You shall dwell with us in everlasting hellfire and burn in glowing flames for evermore! Do not nurture any hope of deliverance, for you can never escape! You will stay in this place with us forever, in perpetual darkness, and never again see the light. Nothing can save you! We shall lead you to the very gates of hell, for you lived your life wickedly enough for us to take you to see Satan, deep in the pit of hell, and there you shall remain, for whoever persuaded you to come here did you no favours, and it is too late for him to rescue you now. Be certain that you shall never see him again.’

They conferred amongst themselves and came to a decision: ‘We shall take this groaning wretch to Satan, to be swallowed whole!’ they declared.

The fiends handled Tundale roughly and told him what they intended to do; their eyes burned like lamps and they made a hideous noise, their teeth were long and black and they had tusks! They had the bodies of dragons and the tails of scorpions, and each of their claws was hooked like a ship’s anchor, as hard and as sharp as though it was made of steel. With huge black wings they could fly wherever they pleased. They narrowed their eyes and bared their teeth and Tundale looked on in heart-stopping terror.

Then the angel returned and the fiends fled quickly away.

‘Tundale,’ said the angel, ‘let your fear melt away and turn into joy. Your pain shall soon explode into light! From now on you are safe, through God’s mercy. God has granted that you shall experience no more torture, so be glad, although you shall see more suffering. Come with me quickly and I will show you your mortal enemy, the greatest enemy that mankind has ever known, the creature who tries to tempt every person into wrongdoing.’

They went a little further and came to the very gates of hell itself. Here Tundale saw a great pit. ‘Come here,’ said the angel, ‘and see something truly terrifying. Stand at the edge and look down. It is pitch black down there but are you able to see all the demons and souls? They are all so racked in torture that they will not see you staring down at them. And you will shortly see Satan himself, bound to the floor of the pit of hell.’

Tundale did as he had been asked; he stood at the edge of the huge and cavernous excavation and looked down into it with awe, because there he could see Satan tied to the floor of the pit. Never before had he seen such a hideous sight! So ugly was that loathsome creature and surrounded by such suffering and distress that, were a man to have a hundred heads and mouths and each mouth a hundred tongues and every tongue the ability to impart the wisdom and intelligence and experience of all the finest minds that live, still it would not be enough to describe the pain that Tundale was looking at now on the floor of the pit of hell. Tundale gazed intently at Satan and tried to frame words that could describe the grim spectacle that he saw, but could come up with nothing. The bound creature was more horrible than any Tundale had ever seen. Satan was huge and as black as pitch; he had the shape of a man but must have been a hundred and fifty feet in length! His shoulders were thirty feet across and his chest rose to fifteen feet above the floor of the pit, and when he opened his mouth he swallowed a thousand souls at a time. From his body came a thousand arms and hands and each hand had twenty fingers and each finger was fifty feet long with nails as hard as iron, sharper and longer than the lances that knights use in war. With a terrifying array of teeth he chewed the souls that came into his mouth before swallowing them down, and with a long tail that was full of hooks and barbs he caught and impaled the souls that were to serve as his next mouthful. He lay upon black burning coals and iron that glowed red-hot, attended by a company of fiends armed with bellows. So many souls were swarming around that Tundale was amazed that the world could have brought forth so many! Satan was bound in iron chains surrounded by molten brass. The souls that he caught in his long fingers he tore to pieces as he brought them to his mouth as a man would a handful of grapes. When he had crushed them and digested them he expelled them back into the fire; and yet, they revived and were put to renewed torture! Tundale saw and heard how Satan cried out in anguish at his binding and constraint and with each tormented exhalation a thousand souls were breathed back out into the fire. Soon they were scattered all around him, but this torture was still insufficient, and when he breathed in again all the scattered souls were swallowed down again, along with the fumes of pitch and sulphur. The souls that managed to escape from his grasp fell into the hot coals and were burned; but they revived and were caught by the hooks in Satan’s tail once more. And so the torture continued, both to the souls and to Satan himself.

Because the more pain that Satan gave to the souls that were brought to him, the more was his own pain, it is a pain from which he can never escape.

‘Here is the heart of suffering!’ exclaimed the angel. ‘Satan, this ugly fiend whom you have not abhorred enough, was the first creature that God made in his own image. He fell from heaven through his pride into this deep pit. He is tied up and shackled, as you can see, and will remain so until Doomsday, for if the iron failed and he was released, he would wreak havoc throughout heaven and Earth. Of the devils that are with him, some trace their descent from Adam and others are angels that fell out of heaven when he did. All of them are damned for eternity. And many more shall arrive here before Doomsday; those who forsake God and will not recognise His truth nor acknowledge His works but love sin, both common men and clergy. These souls have suffered all the torments you have seen on your journey and now they have been thrown to Satan. Whoever is brought here shall remain for eternity. Powerful men who have caused the poor to suffer, who impose their authority unjustly and take whatever they want from those who are weaker than themselves, these princes of wickedness shall suffer unendurable torment, inflicted by fiends who now have absolute power over them.’

‘Sir, God’s will shall be done,’ replied Tundale, instinctively. ‘But one thing puzzles me and I would like to know the answer. Why, on Earth, does God not give at least as much power to those who are good and would be a guide to their fellow men as he does to those who are wicked?’

The angel replied: ‘Sometimes a district or a nation gets the rulers it deserves, because the people need to be punished, and sometimes God is keen not to let the good people of this world have too much wealth because it would harm their chances of going to heaven. But all the things that you have seen up until now are reserved for the purgation of misdemeanours and are nothing compared to the horrors you now see before you. It is not for nothing that this fiend is called the Prince of Darkness.’

‘I can believe you!’ replied Tundale, ‘And I feel more dread and awe standing here than I have of anything up until now. Please let me go from this place. I can see some of my friends and associates here; their home is now this pit and I renounce all my admiration of them and all my friendship for them. This will be my fate too, if Jesus does not have mercy upon me – I shall be forced to stay here for eternity!’

‘I can call you a blessed soul,’ replied the angel mildly, ‘because you have passed through all of your punishments. All these things that you have seen and suffered with courage you need have no further fear of. You have seen the wicked suffer for their misdeeds and now you shall see the bliss that lies in wait for those whom God has chosen. So be glad! Come now, and follow me.’

Tundale went with the angel as he had been instructed. The air began to lighten and soon it was as clear as day. Tundale’s heart, too, became brighter. He was happy! He gladly followed the angel’s footsteps and gave thanks to God.

When they had travelled for quite a little while they came to a wall. It seemed to be enclosing something and it was very high, but nevertheless, the angel led Tundale easily inside. All around him were men and women who seemed to be unhappy and full of grief. Soon it became clear that they were all hungry – they were cold and hungry because they had been travelling a long while without rest. They needed food and clothes but instead were walking around naked, like animals. Tundale found it hard to see what exactly was the matter with them, except that they seemed to be short of the things they might have liked to have had.

‘These people,’ explained the angel, ‘are all saved, but they still have to receive a little more penance. They lived honestly for the most part but offended God by not giving away enough of their wealth to feed and clothe the poor. And therefore God has sent them wind and rain, hunger and thirst. But afterwards they shall find peace.’

The angel would say no more, but carried on walking and Tundale followed him until they came to a gate. Beyond it was a field full of flowers; the meadow was speckled with every colour imaginable and smelt as sweet as a summer morning. The sun shone brightly above and Tundale was enraptured. It was a beautiful place. Fruit trees stood everywhere and from within their branches came a sweet sound of birdsong. People were everywhere, people who had been cleansed of every kind of sin and everybody looked very happy. In the middle of the field was a spring, a beautiful pool, and from it ran many little streams of crystal-clear water.

Unable to prevent himself from laughing, Tundale turned to the angel and said: ‘This is a beautiful place! Let’s end our journey here!’

“We cannot stay,” replied the angel. “The souls that you can see have all suffered for their sins but through God’s grace they have been cleansed and now reside here. But they cannot yet be taken into the bliss of heaven. Although they have been washed clean of all sin, they must stay here in order to await God’s will. The spring of clear water that you can see is called, by those who know, the Well of Life. Whoever drinks from it shall feel no hunger and suffer no thirst. If he is old, it will cause him to be young again!’

The angel strode onwards and Tundale followed breathlessly behind, until they came to a place where there were many men blocking their way. Tundale recognised some of them and two in particular were kings who had once been very powerful men. They had lived by war and slaughter but had been honest rulers. One was called Conchober macDiarmata O’Brien, who had been the king of North Munster in the south of Ireland for a period during the first half of the twelfth century, and the other, Donogh MacCarthy, had ruled briefly over South Munster during that same era. Tundale turned to the angel and said: ‘What is this? These two kings were men of great power a short while ago. Both were courageous and energetic but not at all quick to show any mercy. And they hated each other! I must say that I find it very strange that they should both be thought worthy to come to this delightful place. I should rather have thought that they deserved to have been cast into the pit with Satan!’

The angel saw that it was necessary to dispel Tundale’s perplexity and so explained to him how things stood. ‘It is important,’ he said, ‘that you understand why God has had mercy upon them. Before they died, each had the opportunity to repent. When Conchober fell ill, he opened his heart to God and made a vow to yield himself to Him and, if he recovered, to spend the rest of his life in penance. Donogh McCarthy was in prison for a long time before his death and gave away all his possessions to the poor in return for their prayers. He lived afterwards as a penniless prisoner and so, although both of them were once powerful and ruthless men, they both died in poverty. And therefore God did not abandon them but allowed them a route to heaven. They confessed all their sins, and so they are entitled to mercy.’

Tundale was impressed by the great joy that he saw there, and yet the angel led him ever onwards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.