Category Archives: ghosts

A prayer for driving away a storm

Here’s a draft translation of a prayer for driving away a storm (or a ‘Wettersegen’ in German), from a tenth-century manuscript, Munich clm 6426, which a recent catalogue has described as the ‘pastoral handbook’ of Bishop Abraham of Freising (d. 994).

This prayer may be intended for recitation by a local priest, and if so it offers a rare insight into religious practice at the local level. Of particular interest are the selection of biblical passages, the combination of Old and New Testament figures and the reference to the demon Mermeunt.

For more details about the manuscript, see Anna Dorofeeva, ‘Reading early medieval miscellanies’, in Scribes and the Presentation of Texts, ed. C.W. Dutschke and B.A. Shailor, Bibliologia (Brepols, forthcoming in 2021). This draft English translation is based on Anna’s careful transcription of the Latin. An edition by Adolf Franz is also available, online, though the base text is from a different manuscript.

TRANSLATION

First a litany.
Kyrie Eleison, three times.
Christe Eleison, three times.
Christ, hear us, three times.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Michael, pray for us.
Holy Gabriel, pray for us.
Holy Raphael, pray for us.
Holy Matthew, pray for us.
Holy Isaiah, pray for us.
Holy Mark and holy Jeremiah, pray for us.
Holy Luke and holy Ezekiel, pray for us.
Holy John and holy Daniel, pray for us.
All the saints, pray for us.
Three times: may the cross of Christ be a cool refuge for us.
May the cross of Christ be an aid for us.
May the cross of Christ be always our salvation.
O cross of Christ which we always venerate, may you deign always to be with us against all our enemies.
Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

THEN
Our Father.
I spoke, O Lord, have mercy upon me.
Be our aid in the Lord’s name.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
Have mercy on me O Lord according to your glory.
Save your people O Lord, and bless them.
May the Lord keep us from all harm and preserve us in all goodness, and lead us to eternal life.
O Lord, hear my prayer. 
Rise up O Lord and help us.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who through the great power of prayer and his raised right arm bound you, o devil, and redeemed the whole world from you, and cast you down, o most impious satan, into the depths of the abyss: may he through his power and raised right arm keep your ministers in confusion. Through him I adjure you, that in this place and this parish you are not able to do harm or injure through evil waters or through ice or through storm or through murmured incantation. Depart this place of God and of his ministers and this sanctuary of God. 

When the 11 disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ went out to the sea and boarded a boat, the devils came together and raised up the wind and gales of the sea and a strong storm against them. Then the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ were saddened, afraid that they would drown in the waves. They prayed to the Lord with one voice, ‘Save us Christ our teacher, save us son of the living God, restrain the devil and this wind’, and so forth. Then the prayer of the disciples was heard, and the Lord approached them on the boat, and the disciples saw him walking on the water. And when they recognised that he was the Lord, they were overjoyed with a very great joy, and at once a great calm came over the waters. 

I adjure you, angels of Satan, through the Lord of heaven and earth, through Him who first shaped Adam the first man in the beginning, through him who saved Noah in the Flood, I adjure you through him who saved Ananias and Azaria and Misael in the fiery furnace, I adjure you through Him who led the sons of Israel through the Red Sea by means of His servant Moses, I adjure you through Him who redeemed the whole world through His precious blood, that you shall not be able to come and do harm to this place and this parish, neither through a storm nor through evil waters nor through any lightning nor through any other means. 

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who will come to judge the living and the dead and you, the enemy, through fire. I mark you, clouds of Christ, in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. I mark you. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.

Then
Sing the whole of Psalm 147. 
The Our Father and the creed. 
Holy God, holy and powerful, holy and immortal, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us, You who reign in all eternity.

Another prayer against a storm.
Remember O Lord God what you swore to our fathers, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob on Mount Sinai, that you would turn your anger away from these lands.
We command you, all the angels of hell, that you may hold back your rainfall for the calm waters where the Saviour was baptised, and where the holy Mary mother of the Lord carried him in her shining womb. I order and I command you not to throw the stones of your tempest within these boundaries but send them into dry and deserted places. So that on the Day of Judgement you cannot say that it was not forbidden to you. And I forbid it to you through Him who descended a thousand feet into the Red Sea. Aios Aios Aios Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani. This means: My God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus Christ who hung in Golgotha, tell the angel striking with the sword to hold back his hand over these fields, and let the anger which has gathered upon this city or this region cease. 

I adjure you, Mermeunt, who is in charge of this storm. I adjure you through the name of Him who in the beginning made heaven and earth, and established everything in the foundations of his power, that you shall not permit the storm to pass this boundary. I adjure you, Mermeunt, through the right hand of Him who formed Adam the first man in His own image, that you shall not permit the storm to pass this boundary. I adjure you, Mermeunt, through Jesus Christ our Lord, the only son of God, who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, whose feet walked upon the sea and who commanded the blowing winds, who gave light to the eyes of the blind, and who called Lazarus forth from the tomb after four days, that you shall not permit the storm to pass this boundary, in these: Ager, Alsrarius, Tuthos, Tuthones, Seruc, Celuc, Lacam. *

When Jesus climbed aboard the boat, the disciples followed him. And behold, the sea was greatly disturbed, and the boat was struggling in the waves, while he slept. And they approached him and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us from these dangers’. And he said to them, ‘What are you afraid of, you of little faith?’ Then he stood up and commanded the winds and the sea, and a great calm descended. At once the men were astonished, and said ‘Who is this, whom the winds and sea obey?’

* It is unclear whether these are local place names, as used to be thought, or names of different parts of heaven, as has recently been suggested.

Revenants revisited

This blog’s about the links between a medieval ghost story and the Norman Conquest – two topics that might seem far apart, but whose connections tell us quite a lot about society in the Middle Ages. The ghost story goes something like this (you can read a full translation of the original Latin text here):

Around 1090, two villagers from Stapenhill in Staffordshire, living on lands owned by the rich abbey of Burtofn, fled to the neighbouring village of Drakelow, which was owned by a prominent Norman aristocrat called Roger. Roger helped them out by plundering the abbot’s lands, but desisted after his knights were (miraculously) beaten in battle by the abbot of Burton’s forces. Meanwhile, the two troublesome villagers mysteriously died. They were immediately buried at Stapenhill. But…

…. The very same evening of their burial, they reappeared at Drakelow, carrying their coffins on their backs. The pair proceeded to haunt the village over the next few weeks, until hardly anyone was left living there. Eventually their corpses were disinterred and ceremonially mutilated, which put an end to the nightly visitations, but Drakelow itself was nevertheless abandoned as a settlement.

So much for the ghost story. As it happens, we have a very good idea of the life in Stapenhill the two villagers had run away from, because the abbey of Burton produced an estate survey listing the onerous dues of the peasants there around the 1130s. The dozen or so residents that this survey names must have heard of, and some might even have remembered, the peculiar events of a generation earlier. What’s more, the estate survey was organised by the very same person who wrote the ghost story for us: Abbot Geoffrey of Burton. 

What has all this got to do with the Norman Conquest? At first sight, not much. The Normans did not introduce the kinds of obligations that the Stapenhill peasants were fleeing (weekly labour for their lords, dues in kind, etc), though they might perhaps have helped intensify them. Nor did they introduce ideas about ghosts or revenants. Both these things were present in England before 1066 as well as after it.

However, the plot thickens if we look at the history of the villages concerned. Domesday Book tells us that before the Conquest, the village of Drakelow had been owned by an Englishman named Alric. Most of Stapenhill was owned by the abbey of Burton, but another Englishman, Godric, had owned a parcel of land there as well. He was probably a client of Burton Abbey, since his lands intersected with the monastery’s elsewhere too. After the Conquest, however,  a Norman named Nigel de Stafford ‘inherited’ the lands of both Godric and Alric. And it seems that these consolidated rights passed onto Roger, who was a real mover and shaker in early Anglo-Norman England.

That means that, as a direct consequence of 1066, a new and powerful aristocrat had arrived in the locality, whose property rights overlapped with those of the monastery’s at Stapenhill, and who also owned outright another estate just next to it, Drakelow. This is probably why the villagers fled from Stapenhill to Drakelow. Either the peasants were taking advantage of the situation to negotiate a better deal with a patron who might have relished the excuse to take on the monastery; or they were innocently caught in the cross-fire as Roger and the abbey squared off.

Ghost stories and revenants can often be connected with social tensions of some kind or other: in this specific case, they are associated with the confrontation between two powerful landowners, as an indirect result of the slaughter of Hastings a generation earlier. This doesn’t entirely explain the revenants, but it does at least give them a context. That makes the story a good illustration of how political events at the “top”, such as the Norman Conquest, might trickle down with unexpected implications for the “bottom”. Medieval society was more inter-connected than it can sometimes appear.

But there’s another Norman Conquest dimension to the tale. Why did our author, Abbot Geoffrey of Burton, record it in the first place? Because he claimed it illustrated the power of the monastery’s patron saint, Modwenna. Abbot Geoffrey was very interested in Modwenna. He wrote an account of her life, and included recent miracles such as this one which he attributed to the saint’s wrath.

It’s striking that earlier monks of Burton hadn’t written much about Modwenna before. In fact, by the twelfth century, Modwenna was a pretty mysterious figure, about whom very little was known even in Burton. Maybe information about her had been lost in the changes of personnel that followed the Conquest, as the monastery was “Normanised”. More likely, though, Saint Modwenna had always been shadowy, but this was more of a problem for Norman incomers at Burton than it had been for their English predecessors, for whom the relics had just always been there and therefore didn’t require any explaining.

So, just as the weird events that Abbot Geoffrey documented were linked to the tenurial reshuffle indirectly caused by the Conquest, so his eagerness to record them (and thus our knowledge of them) might reflect an attempt to plug a “cultural gap” that had opened up as a consequence of the Norman Conquest.

This isn’t the only evidence in the story for a cultural gap, though. As it happens, the name Drakelow actually means “Dragon’s Mound”: an extremely sinister place name. This would have been obvious to the Old-English speaking peasants, and we may imagine that their own interpretation of events at the Dragon’s Mound might have been different from the abbot’s. Did Abbot Geoffrey not mention this etymology because, as a French-speaker, he didn’t understand it – or did he simply prefer to put a different spin on what had happened? Further research might help to elucidate this and other puzzles.

Notes
This blog owed its origins to a paper given at conference organised by Alyx Mattison and James Chetwood in Sheffield in May 2016. Thanks to both Alyx and James, and to Matt Innes for advice.  Published 23 May 2016, updated 20 October 2019.

The entire Life and miracles of Modwenna is translated and edited by Robert Bartlett, Geoffrey of Burton: Life and Miracles of St Modwenna (Oxford, 2002). You can see a page of the medieval manuscript here.

For an example of research on the social context of “strange happenings” in the Middle Ages, see C. West, ‘Visions in a Ninth-Century Village: an Early Medieval Microhistory’, History Workshop Journal 81 (2016), open access. 

How to deal with a vampire attack

The nights are drawing in, and the Halloween season is almost upon us. So I’ve put together what is I think the world’s first handy and practical flow-chart guide for how to deal with a vampire attack, based on an *actual event that took place in Derbyshire in the late eleventh century. Keep it close to hand – you never know when it might come in useful….
*well, according to a near-contemporary chronicler, anyway

Vampire2

 

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Notes
This flowchart is entirely based on a story reported by a twelfth-century chronicler, Geoffrey of Burton, in his Life and Miracles of St Modwenna (ed. and tr. Rob Bartlett, Oxford, 2002). Geoffrey wrote in the 1130s, but places the story c. 1090. It took place in the village of Drakelow, which was for a while abandoned as a consequence, but is now once again inhabited (for the time being…).

An excellent guide to revenants in the Middle Ages is provided by Jean-Claude Schmitt, Ghosts in the Middle Ages (1998); meanwhile, Alyx Mattison here in Sheffield is finishing a PhD examining the treatment of ‘deviant’ corpses in late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman England.