The Trial of the Soul

Post-Byzantine Visual Representations of the Tollbooths in the Romanian Churches of Maramureş

  • Raluca Betea (Autor/in)


The present article analysis the representations of the aerial tollbooths in the iconography of the Last Judgment painted during the seventeenth and eighteenth century in the wooden churches, situated in the southern part of the historical Maramureş (Máramaros) County (nowadays Romania). Besides the representations of the customhouses as a series of booths arranged vertically, diagonally or even horizontally, in Maramureş the painters used two other designs, namely the tower customhouses and the aerial tollbooths. The iconographic motif of the tollbooths came in this region from the Carpathian Rus’ territory; but in Romanian Maramureş the element will be characterized by a different development: the innovations consist of the reduction of the number of ordeals (sometimes even to three) and the presence of a “dialogue” between the demons and angels who are contending the soul’s innocence and guilt. In comparison with other depictions where usually the devil holds a scroll only with the name of the sin, in Maramureş both the angel and the demon are presenting papers with narrative descriptions of the bad and good deeds done by the dead man. The study of these images allows conclusions to be made about the gradation of sins, the good deeds, and the forms of repentance encouraged by the Church, which will help the souls to overcome the transgressions. However, these cultural artifacts represent an important source not only for the religious mentalities, but also for the social aspects of the Romanian rural communities in the historical County of Maramureş, because a part of them reflect local conflicts between parishioners.