Marigolds in olde-worlde English cottage gardens were not primarily part of a ‘Homes & Gardens’ decor, but a defence against witches, relations to the Transylvanian garlic that deterred vampires. To repel Satan, the witches’ master, it was even worth throwing away some salt, that most costly item in the medieval housewife’s shopping basket.
Fear of the forces of darkness and Hell haunted the medieval imagination. Preaching friars, media men of their day, warned of a doom that awaited unless the correct means of salvation were sought. Church wall-paintings – predecessors of Panorama – reinforced the message. The ever-present plague meant that the Dance of Death, rather than Strictly Come Dancing, topped the fourteenth-century charts.
Rich folk could invest in masses for the rescue and repose of their souls. Even Hodge, or probably his wife, could light a candle, while the Guilds, the mega-buck businesses of medieval England, could pay for a perpetual light display in the parish church. Pardons and indulgences could be obtained to wipe out sin’s footprints.
Today the fires of Hell have become but a flicker for twenty-first-century Everyman. Yet fear of impending doom is still abroad. Once it was The Bomb; now climate change is the threat invoked by preachers of our day whose pulpit is the press and cathedral the TV screen. Modern man is as frightened by the image of melting ice caps as his medieval forebears were by wall-paintings depicting the terrors of Hell.
Sin now has a carbon footprint but indulgences can still be gained if you plant a tree. Carbon off-setting for the successors of the Guilds has replaced paying for a perpetual light in the parish church. Don’t plant marigolds but top up your recycling bin. Don’t throw salt over your shoulder but refuse to take a plastic bag and shut your eyes to budget flight adverts.
Eventually, by government decree, all light bulbs will be low energy. Churches will presumably not be exempt and some bishops have already called for their immediate introduction. As we peer through the gloom, another link with the Middle Ages and its ‘dim religious light’?