Saturday, 14 July 2012

REVENANTS; The walking dead of Medieval Britain.

    "A revenant is a visible ghost or animated corpse that was believed to return from the grave to terrorize the living. The word "revenant" is derived from the Latin word, revenans, "returning". (Wikipedia).
William Parvus.

    William Parvus of Newburgh was born in 1136 and between 1145 and 1208 he lived in the abbey of Austin Canons at Newburgh in Yorkshire, England. 
    It was here that he wrote the Historia Rerum Anglicarum or The History of the Affairs of England, which was completed in 1198. 
    William took his study of history very seriously and he wrote with historical accuracy in mind taking as his mentors people like St Gildas and the Venerable Bede.

The Buckinghamshire Vampire.

    It is with this in mind that we include three stories from his Historia, the first is from Buckinghamshire where "A most remarkable event took place". The story was told to William in detail by Stephen "an esteemed Archdeacon of that diocese."     It begins with the death of a man who is buried on the 29th May, the following night the dead man enters the room where his wife sleeps and leaps upon her nearly killing her with fright. The next night he does the same.
    Each night there after the wife had others with her to watch over her and when her dead husband returned he was driven away by shouts and cries, so he then attacked his brothers who soon employed the same method of defence as the wife. 
    Next the dead man terrorised any animal in or around peoples houses which meant everyone had to guard each other all night!
    With all this watchfulness by night the dead man then began to walk by day causing much fear, eventually the good villagers went to seek the advice of Archdeacon Stephen who in turn went for guidance from Hugh Bishop of Lincoln.
    The Bishop found that this occurrence was not unusual and there had been many well known instances, to rid themselves of this evil the villagers had to disinter the dead man and burn his body to ashes. 
    However, the Bishop found this barbaric so instead told the people to open the grave and place a chartula of absolution on the dead man's chest, this they did. 
    When the grave was opened the corpse was still uncorrupted and was just as it had been on the day it was buried, the chartula was placed on the chest and from that day on he never walked again.

William of Newburgh.
The Berwick Revenant.

    Our second story comes from the border town of Berwick upon Tweed in Northumberland, England and concerns a wealthy merchant who by evil deeds becomes richer. 
    After his death he was seen to rise again and wander the streets at night, where ever he went dogs would howl and who ever met him would become frozen with terror.
    The great and good of Berwick met to discuss what could be done, they decided not to fight the revenant as it would do much injury to them but they could not leave it as it would spread plague and pollute the air as other revenants were known to have done.
    Finally they decided that ten brave men would exhume the corpse and dismember it, this they immediately did, after it was cut up each part was thrown into a furnace and burnt up.
    When this had been done "the slaughter ceased" but a terrible pestilence broke out in the town and killed many people. It is said that when the plague victims were being carried to the graveyard people could still hear the barking of dogs and the scream of the revenant.

The Hundeprest.

    The third and last story from William of Newburgh takes us over the border to Melrose in Scotland. 
    At the beginning William states "it is quite true that unless they are amply supported by many examples which have taken place in our own days and by unimpeachable testimony of responsible persons, these facts would not easily be believed, to wit, that the bodies of the dead may arise from their tombs and that vitalised by some supernatural power they speed hither and thither, either greatly alarming or in some cases actually slaying the living and when they return to the grave it seems to open to them of it's own accord."
    The story starts with the death of a high ranking lady's chaplain who was more interested in hunting with horse and hound than in religious matters.
     After he was buried he was seen trying to force an entrance into Melrose abbey cloisters, night after night he tried and failed to get in. 
    Eventually he began to wander elsewhere terrifying people, he even appeared in the bed chamber of his Lady to whom he had been chaplain.
    Her screams and shouts prevailed and the Hundeprest (hound priest, named because of his passion for hunting) went away, the monks of Melrose held a council to decide what to do.
    The plan was for four monks to stand guard over the grave of the Hundeprest. Nothing happened for some hours and three of the monks went to a nearby cottage to get warm, no sooner had they gone when the Hundeprest attacked the remaining monk.
Melrose Abbey.

    Armed with an axe the monk swung at the advancing revenant striking him in the chest, with an unearthly howl the Hundeprest fled back to it's grave and disappeared. 
    The other three monks hurried back but they waited until day break before opening the grave.
     When they opened the coffin the Hundeprest's body was still fresh and it was bleeding from a gaping axe wound in it's chest.     The monks then pulled the body out of the grave, took it off the abbey grounds and burned the corpse until all that remained was ashes, these ashes were then scattered to the four winds, the people of Melrose now slept peacefully. 

Walter Map.

    Walter Map was born in Hereford during the late 1130's and his family were held in high regard by King Henry II, under his patronage Map became Archdeacon of Oxford. 
    Unlike William of Newburgh Walter Map had a different style of relating history, his style is more in the way of telling a good story than sticking to known facts.
    Walter Map's major work was De Nugis Curialium or Courtier's Trifles, this is a book of stories and anecdotes was written between 1180 and 1193.
Walter Map listen's to King Arthur.

The Matron.

    There are three stories that interest us here, the first involves a knight and his lady who have been blessed with a new born baby. 
    The morning after the birth the baby is found in it's cradle with it's throat cut, the next year another child is born and dies in the same way, a third baby is born only to suffer the same. 
    To stop a fourth tragedy the knight lights up the house with lanterns, this light attracts a stranger who asks if he may stay the night, to which the knight agrees.

    During the night everyone falls asleep except the stranger who sees the well respected matron enter the house, she then picks up the baby and is about to cut it's throat when the stranger shouts and wakes the knight up.
   Seizing the matron the stranger and an increasingly large crowd of people drag her to the church where they brand her in the face with a cross, however, soon the real matron arrives and the Demon, with a howl, escapes by crashing through a window.

The Criminal.

    The second story concerns an English soldier called William Laudun who lived in Wales. He had several lodgers in his house but one was a Welsh criminal who died while staying there. 
    Four nights after he was buried the criminal returned and one after another the lodgers sickened and died. 
    By the time Laudun had told his story to the Bishop only three remained, the Bishop gave Laudun some advice and so Laudun dug up the grave, cut through the neck of the corpse and sprinkled holy water on it then reburied it.
    The revenant soon came back. One night Laudun heard his name called three times, he rushed outside with his sword drawn and the revenant fled back toward it's grave, but Laudun was too fast for it and he beheaded the fiend, from then on it was seen no more.

The Athiest.

    Our last story tells of an atheist who died but was seen three days later wandering around an orchard dressed in a hair shirt.
     Bishop Rodger ordered a cross to be erected on it's grave, when the revenant was followed back to it's grave by a crowd of people he was seen to jump back at the sight of the cross. 
    The cross was then removed and revenant entered it's grave, the cross was put back and the revenants wandering ceased.

    There were many more stories and reports of this type of activity all over Europe and there are many similarities between the medieval revenant and the traditional east European stories of the Vampire.
    We tend to see the Vampire as a foreign phenomenon and yet these stories of animated corpse's were told from town to town and believed by many right here in Britain nearly six hundred years before the Vampire epidemic of eighteenth century Europe which brought the name Vampire to the English language.