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Sko-Ella: the tale of the woman worse than the Devil

5 min read

A Middle Age story tells the tale of a woman known as Kitta Grå (Look-Grey), better know as Sko-Ella (Shoe-Ella), apparently the woman who was more evil than the Devil himself.
Yes, the Devil.
The purest form of evil, king of the deepest place on earth, who lives among the flames of the place we commonly call hell.
However, the woman managed the feat of leaving the wicked literally with the tail between her legs…

What is it that you truly desire?
How far are you prepared to go to get it?
Well, it seems that, for this woman, who was believed to have lived in medieval Sweden, the answer is yes, and the object that she longed after is nothing but a pair of red new shoes.
Her story is recorded above the door to the antechamber or vapenhus in Viksta kyrka, a church in northern Uppsala commune that is dated to the 13th century.
In the mural a diabolical figure, standing on one side of the door, is holding a very long pole with a pair of red boots tied to the end. A woman on the other side is holding the boots with one hand, and it seems that she is examining or admiring this offering.
In any case, in a number of medieval churches in Sweden you can find a similar motif where the devil hands a woman a pair of shoes on a pole and, the motif, is called not by chance “Sko-Ella”.
And the story was a common tale that was told to children in the 1400-1500s.

Sko-Ella, as the story goes, had been longing after a new pair of shoes for quite some time.
Meanwhile the Devil had been trying to create discord between a newly married couple, but every his attempts had failed.
Ella had then made contact with The Devil and mocked him, saying that she could do the deed and ensure the couple would no longer be happy together. The Devil encouraged her to pull off the wicked stunt, promising her a beautiful pair of shoes if she succeeded.
After the bet had been made, Ella went to talk to the wife, telling her that her husband was indeed a wonderful man, but that there was still evil in his heart, and he was having an affair.
She claimed that she needed to shave her husband’s beard under his chin to remove the last of the wickedness that resided within him.
The woman, thinking this could do nothing but good, agreed that this was indeed a good idea. Of course she had to be sneaky about it, so her plan was to do it while he was asleep.
To the husband, however, Sko-Ella told a much darker story: his wife was planning to kill him, said the cunning woman, so he must remain awake during the night and be prepared.
Naturally he didn’t believe it at first, but he couldn’t help but be a bit paranoid regardless.
Thus, as he went to bed that night, he started off by only pretending to be asleep.
Carrying out her plan, his wife tried to shave him. Believing that everything Ella said was about to come true, the husband jumped out of the bed and killed his wife on the spot.
Ella demanded her reward, but her method was so cruel and bloody that even the devil became afraid – after all, all he wanted was just discord and the end of the marriage, and that end needed not to be death.
Now realizing what kind of woman he was dealing with, the devil did not go anywhere near Sko-Ella. Instead, he handed her the shoes with a long pole, so he may keep her at more than an arm’s distance.

And what about the story itself?
It is essentially a moralising tale, and that fact that it or similar motif, in Vikstad kyrka as well as other churches, tends to be depicted above the door strengthens its function.
Sko-Ella’s tale also serves as a warning: every time they went through the antechamber, the parishioners would be reminded of what harm gossip and slander could do.
This location is important and not so randomly chosen. Vapenhus, literally “weapon house”, is where men are expected to leave their weapons before entering the church, representing the transitional space between the outside secular world and the marked holy area of worship. Whereas the walls of the interior tend to be covered with scenes from the Bible, in vapenhus we find secular images with religious teachings, as if to remind the worshipers, especially on their way out, that they must not deviate from the highway of virtue when they are out there in the real world.
What makes the real world so dangerous is that it is full of temptations, which in turn have their root in the devil, while Sko-Ella is also an admonition against witchcraft, or associating oneself the devil in general. In Uppland in particular, church murals depicting scenes with the devil are the most commonly seen.
In these depictions it is always women who are engaged as the devil’s helper, just like Sko-Ella, though their tasks are less bloody and, most of the time, they just steal milk and churn butter…

Images from web – Google Research