Here lately I have been going down the rabbit hole of Ethiopic Christianity, particularly the apocrypha texts from that tradition. It has been a fascinating journey and I am only getting started. I am working on a blog entry about the “Lefāfa Ṣedeḳ” but in the meantime, I wanted to post about this text that involves the Theotokos and her vision of Hell. Now there are numerous stories involving such a concept, so the premise is nothing new. I am basing this blog entry on a text that survives in the British Museum collection. I am not sure where else it survives nor do I have any other information on it. This story is included in a book I recently read, so I do apologize about not having more source material of it’s origin. From my viewpoint, the Ethiopic Christian tradition is not very well represented in the English speaking world on the internet. Trying to find material on the matter usually leads me to books published in the later half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. That being said, let us take a look at this interesting short text.
This story is told by Mary. Jesus tells her that he will take her to the west and show her where the “souls of the sinners and the men of deceit live”. This area is at the boundary of the earth and heaven. No darkness was present but rather a river of fire. Mary asked her son for an explanation of the river and who dwelt within, and he said “These were not wholly cold, and they were not poor.” Looking around, Mary saw many men, women and children. She saw some men immersed in fire up to their breasts, some to their lips and others to their skulls. Then Mary saw a great abyss that appeared to have no bottom to it. She asked for whom this abyss is for and Jesus replied “For all those who have committed fornication, and those who have lain with men and beasts…These are they who shall enter this abyss, and this shall be their punishment forever.”
The next sight Mary saw was an old man who received a special punishment of his own. Fourteen “cruel” angels of darkness carried this man into the river of fire, which proceeded to engulf him. They then set the man upon a throne of fire which flared up to his breasts. The angels of darkness mockingly hurled red-hot darts into his side and poured fire onto him from a vessel! No reason was given why this man was being tortured as he was.
These types of visions continue. The next one involves a man whom the angels smote until he fell down on his face and blood was pouring out of his mouth before being thrown into the river of fire. Another man was being pounded with red hot stones and rods of lightning. Another man was beaten with rods of lightning until his face was blackened, then his tongue was cut out with a red hot razor and his nose sliced off with a sword!
Multitudes of people were scattered about the river of fire, some suspended on pillars of fire, others being gnawed on by worms. Virgins were chained around their necks and being dragged into the fire. Panthers and lions of fire were biting people through their throats and legs. Some areas had sweet fruits and water within a little more than an arm’s reach to taunt the damned.
These descriptions continued a little bit more, but you get the idea. The souls trapped were shown no mercy. Mary saw Gehenna was sealed with seven seals. Jesus cried out “Open ye the doors of Jahannam that Mary, my Mother, may see.” Interesting note that the word “Jahannam” is used, which is more associated with Islam than Christianity. Once the doors were opened, Mary asked what is this river. Jesus said that it’s name is Jahannam and said that the people who dwell within it are those who denied the Son of God. The tortured souls saw Mary and cried out “Blessed art thou, O Mary and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb. Blessed are the eyes that see thee.” Hearing this, Mary asks Jesus to have mercy upon them for her sake and that there is no man without sin.
Jesus responds with “From the Eve of the Sabbath until the dawn of the second day of the week, the sinners shall have respite from their torture (those in Jahannam). Be not sorrowful, my Mother. He who hath celebrated thy Commemoration, or hath written a history of thy words, on him will I show mercy to the twelfth generation for thy sake, O thou who didst give me birth. This I swear unto thee by my Father, and his Son, myself, and by the flow of blood from my side, for the redemption of the world, and by his Spirit, my Spirit.” Upon hearing this, Mary gives thanks upon her son.
Thus ends this particular text, at least the version I have read of it. The story offers up another example of intercession by Mary for those who pray to her. The graphic detail of the damned fits along the narrative of a Hell-ish afterlife for those who fall out of line. Definitely an interesting four page story!
This story is featured in the appendix of the Kessinger’s Legacy Reprints of the “Bandlet of Righteousness” by E.A. Wallis Budge. I will be referring to this book some more in the future.
Featured artwork is Midjourney based.