The Fear of HellImages of Damnation and Salvation in Early Modern Europe
The Fear of Hell
Images of Damnation and Salvation in Early Modern Europe
Translated by Lucinda Byatt

<i>The Fear of Hell</i> is a provocative study of two of the most powerful images in Christianity—hell and the eucharist. Drawing on the writings of Italian preachers and theologians of the Counter-Reformation, Piero Camporesi demonstrates the extraordinary power of the Baroque imagination to conjure up punishments, tortures, and the rewards of sin.

Camporesi argues that hell was a very real part of everyday life during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Preachers portrayed hell in images typical of common experience, comparing it to a great city, a hospital, a prison, etc.; the horror lay in the extremes to which these familiar images could be taken. The city of hell was not an ordinary city, but a filthy, stinking, and overcrowded place, an underworld ‘sewer’ overflowing with the refuse of decaying flesh and excrement—shocking but not beyond human imagination. What was most disturbing about this grotesque imagery was the realization by the people of the day that the punishment of afterlife was an extension of their daily experience in a fallen world.

The eucharist, or host, represented corporeal salvation for early modern Christians and was therefore closely linked with the imagery of hell, the place of perpetual corporeal destruction. As the bread of life, the host possessed many miraculous powers of healing and sustenance, which made it precious to those in need. When received properly, the host was a source of health and life both in this world and in the world to come, though for those who ate the host unworthily there was the prospect of swift retribution.

Written with style and imagination, <i>The Fear of Hell</i> offers a vivid account of themes central to Christian culture, whose influence can still be found in our beliefs and customs today.

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  • January 1991 (hb)
    March 2020 (pb)
  • 232 pages
  • 152 x 229 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $49.95
  • 9780745606460
  • Paperback $22.95
  • 9780745610313
  • Open eBook $22.95
  • 9781509539574
About the Author

Piero Camporesi was formerly Professor of Italian Literature at University of Bologna, Italy.

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“This is an immensely stimulating work, vivid, full of ideas, offering suggestions that go well beyond its stricter subject matter. All scholars and students concerned with the ways the psyche has been shaped by the material doctrines of Christianity will want to read this book.”
Roy Porter, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine

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