Demons Outside St Mary Redcliffe

On the external wall of St Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol are carved many hideous monsters and strange creatures. Terrifying-looking gargoyles are not unusual on old churches, but these are at head height and were meant to be observed. Inside there are angels with fifteenth-century hair-dos, pious-looking dignitaries and a green man, but the monster population is generally found without.

I suspect that the masons or architects who directed them wished to communicate that the world outside the church was bedevilled, literally, while those within the church kept better spiritual company.


Most of us know that it is rather more complicated than this. There are many pious folk who cannot find a decent church in modern Britain, while those who do attend are sometimes full of pride and other spiritual maladies. Satan probably does keep away from our churches, for some who attend them do his bidding freely. Yet there is a sense in which God’s people are spared the spiritual assaults which might otherwise occur. Satan asked permission to goad Job; I suspect that his righteousness and devotion to God meant a dispensation had first to be obtained. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul speaks of ‘deliver[ing] such a one unto Satan’ who was to be expelled from the church for immoral conduct. The devil is a roaring lion, but he is chained, and cannot ultimately harm Christ’s saints. The demons of hell might creep about in the darkness, but from our worship I trust they stay away and keep out; that which is tuneful and delightful to God must surely be agonizing and torturous to them.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7