Throwback Thursday: St. Monsters Exhibit at the Downing Museum

We return to the Downing Museum this week for an intriguing twist on the Halloween season. The St. Monsters collection compiled by local artist Todd Fife is on display at the museum through October. Let’s take a closer look at this historical take on the definition of monsters and the corruption of the Middle Ages thru the 19th century.

The church ruled all of Europe with an iron fist during the Middle Ages. According to the church, corruption in the general population was made visible through the birthing of monsters from normal mothers. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the origin of the word monster to the early 1200s, relating to any misshapen or disfigured humans.

Artists depicting these so-called creatures made them extreme and inaccurate. Thanks to the introduction of science and study, we now know that many of these monsters deemed sinful by the church were actually suffering from genetic disorders.

Fife’s collection is based on the medieval doctrine held by the Catholic and Protestant churches that monsters were signs of God’s displeasure. His sources of religious pamphlets and early scientific journals are recasting these so-called monsters as true saints. He couples the depictions of monsters with representations of traditional saints through stories told up to the early 20th century.

Visitors will notice the legend of a 17th-century witch called Sidonia The Sorceress, who was beheaded in 1620. There is also a portrait of famous 19th-century horror and supernatural writer Algernon Blackwood.