Avaritia was not simply avarice but the greedy seeking, acquiring and private accumulation of liquid wealth
especially by usury.
It was thus closely linked to Luxuria, or the depravity of luxury.
For more on the Deadly (or Capital) Sins, read here.
A superb 11th.century capital at Ennezat (Puy-de-Dôme)
has the unambiguous inscription:
"in practising usury, you do devil-work".
He is being hauled to Hell by two figures in fringed skirts which don't look particularly demoniac.
His Pot of Riches is bigger than the moneybag around his neck.
"Le supplice de l'usurier.
Il a sa bourse pendue à son cou et à ses pieds son pot de terre abritant ses richesses.
Nu, il est empoigné par deux personnages démoniaques vêtus d'un pagne.
La signification du message gravé est sans ambiguïté :
" en pratiquant l'usure, c'est pour moi que tu as travaillé " fait dire le sculpteur à Satan."
(from Joël Jalladeau's excellent website : click for more.
Saint-Fort-sur-Gironde: Mr Moneybag displaying his wealth.
A fine capital at Orcival (Puy-de-Dôme) is entitled
Foolish Rich Man in Latin.
He is being seized by demons who will cast him into the eternal fires of Gehenna.
This bas-relief at Fornovo di Taro (Parma) leaves no doubt that the billionaires will be punished eternally.
On an archivolt of the basilica of the Holy Cross in Bordeaux the hideously-evil dealer or lender holds up a circular object,
which might be the pan of the scales that a devil is endeavouring to reove from his grasp.
There is an implied parallel, of course, with the weighing of souls which was another Romanesque trope,
most famous to Irish readers from Muiredeach's Cross at Monasterboice.
Avaritia rarely occurs on corbels, but there is a fine example (with gold-measuring scales) at Cartes in Cantabria.
A much simpler representation of the irredeemable rich can be seen at Carpiquet (Calvados).
A moneylender (or banker) at Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges
is being swallowed by the jaws of Hell.
compare with the female hedonist at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val
Rebolledo de la Torre (Burgos), Spain:
an unusual lion-maned devil welcomes the skinny (maybe miserly) rich man to Hell.
While usury is not condemned as such in the New Testament, Jesus was obviously concerned about the exploitation of the poor by the rich, about continuing, crippling debt and its remission. Moneylenders and wealth are both condemned in the Gospels, and money itself denounced byJames and Timothy. The chief and most certain source is wealth is by lending money - whether to the poor or to 'entrepreneurs', 'venture capitalists' or to already-rich companies and corporations.
The early 'Church Fathers' condemned Usury as the opposite of Charity, Augustine regarded it as a crime, and the Council of Carthage banned it in 345 AD. The Third Lateran Council of 1179 denied moneylenders Christian burial.
But there was a commercial revolution during the period from 1100 to 1348 (The Black Death) brought about by the general use of the bill of exchange (essentially paper money) which avoided sacks of coins being transported and sunk in boats or seized by brigands. Each bill was a loan that also performed a currency conversion. A merchant would use local currency to purchase a bill of exchange. That bill was then made payable at a future moment in time, in another location, and in a different currency. The interest rate charged by the lender was not recorded but rather subsumed under the currency-exchange conversion. (Visa and Mastercard used the same trick until litigation required them to disclose foreign transaction fees on customers statements.) This was interpreted as usury, which led to wealth, luxury and depravity - and the economic decline of the monasteries and monastic orders.
In 1524 Martin Luther condemned usury as grossly contrary to God's Word - but just 20 years later, Calvin, the Whited Sepulchre of Geneva, started to write apologies for money-lending. From that point modern Capitalism began to take over the world.
Today, even 'Bible-based' Christians see nothing wrong with the charging of interest - which they would call making money make money. They continually and ever-more irrelevantly condemn private behaviour such as harmless homosexuality on the basis of dubious interpretation of very few texts, but conveniently ignore the prohibition of usury in both Old and New Testaments... They are akin to the anti-Darwinists who are the most avid exponents of "Social Darwinism".
A fine capital at Cunault (Maine-et-Loire) showing a devil
a king or prince with impressive moneybag.
photo by Julianna Lees
And an amazing depiction of the despicable rich man at Tarragona
which links this motif with tongue-stickers, mouth-pullers and Gorgons.
The theme of wealth, greed, and ungenerosity features large
on the left side of the famous portal at Moissac (Tarn-et-Garonne).
Below the most descriptive of all the depictions of the parable of Dives and Lazarus
is this panel. On the left, a tongue-sticking demon sits on the shoulders of a rich, beautifully-dressed aristocrat seated on a chair
and holding a large bag (grey with white staining). The devil's talons grip his forehead.
On the right - Scene 2 - another devil sits on his shoulders while gripping the bag.
The rich., vainglorious man is now a pauper and will be a pauper in Hell.
On the W door of Lincoln Cathedral in England, a rich woman
wearing pearls is handing a box (containing jewels ?)
to a rich man with a satchel, who may be a moneylender or a tax-collector.
And on the recently-restored frieze is this rich man being seized by two devils who will drag him to Hell.
A corbel at Mailhat (Puy-de-Dôme) shows a person with a moneybag
who seems to be a rogue monk.
From the same church a figure of the eternal punishment of Luxuria,
the Licentiousness of the Rich.
Fragments at Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (Corrèze), photographed
by Adrian Fletcher.
The rich man is being ridden into Hell by a devil, while a toad-lizard approaches Luxuria's groin.
The figure on the left may be Gluttony, having 'licked the platter clean'.
A tongue-sticking, possibly-hermaphrodite, chained devil
on one of the three West Doors of Notre-Dame de Paris.
Note that he is sitting on a pope, a wealthy cardinal, and a king.
A more horizontal version at Strasbourg cathedral shows similar
characters advancing reluctantly towards the jaws of Hell,
with the (very German-looking) wealthy man the most prominent of the damned because of his money-bag.
Gluttony was another notable sin, of course, but it
and it would take several hundred years - and the advent of consumer-capitalism - for it to become generalised.