our_lady

Court Transcript

LORD SCALES. You have confessed the truth, and owned that you refused to fetch the stick, and that Gluck, in the mean time, caught his cowl on an upturned root, by which he was strangled to death. A pity that Gluck cannot be summoned from his concubines, then we might ask him what he intended to do, had you saved him. What induced you to believe that Christ was lying, when he said your work on earth was done? He asked that you go with Him. Surley, that’s an offer no sane soul can refuse. But you ignored His words, and thought only of your own bodily survival. Consequently, I can only find you guilty of murder five.

JACQUES. I would ask the jury for their verdict, but see little point, since the scales of justice are weighted against me. Why do you growl?

LORD SCALES. Your stubborn refusal to accept my verdict is a gross indecency, and a flagrant defiance of Diamonic Law. Must I hold you in contempt of court? Have you any idea what horrors I could inflict upon your wretched soul?

JACQUES. Then I shall press the matter no further, except to tell of what happened on my return to the abbey. Perhaps then you will judge me in a better light. For that very night the Devil himself arrived at the abbey gates…

KREW. Permit me to tell it Lord. For whilst Jacques and Gélis were creeping back to the dorter, the prior was in the guest house, entertaining bishop Tolon…

 

Krew is telling it…

Tolon tucks into his trencher and grins:

‘’Tis good to see you again prior. The food here is as good as ever. What am I eating this time? No, don’t tell me. It will spoil the mystery. Let me guess. Peacock?’

Odo shakes his head.

‘Blackbird?’

Odo shakes his head again.

‘Surely, it cannot be chicken?’

‘Not quite, your holiness. ’Tis chicken stuffed with quail.’

‘Remarkable: that you should stuff a bird so a cheap with one so precious. ’Tis a curious thing, this fashion for stuffing one beast inside another. Last summer I ate with the king; what I thought was common beef turned out to be a partridge, in a goose, in a hog, in a calf, and all tied up in a stag. My god, it made me shudder, to think of gutting all those inwards, and stuffing one bum-gut up another. Yet I cannot deny the effect was quite dazzling. A dish most succulent and sweet. And it brought to mind those Cathars who feign virtue and refuse to even touch meat, yet are themselves stuffed with so many beasts from hell, that if they were ever cut open, a whole legion of devils would come crawling out. The Cathars dub Jehovah a deceiver, a thief, a vulgar juggler. And they condemn Mosaic law, declaring it radically evil. These hills still teem with heresy. All the high places of earth are ruled by wicked spirits. You would not believe the horrors I have seen. Most of the churches are without parson or priest. At Poulant, the door is off its hinges and swine wallow in the porch; a crone has established herself in the apse and hens roost on the altar.

‘Beasts?’ gasps Odo. ‘In the church?’

‘’Tis a stinking sty. Even the crypt is full of dung. ’Twill take more than a moon of shit-shovelling to clear that lot out.’ He slurps. ‘What was once Holy, looks more like unhallowed ground; the graveyard is unfenced and wild boar have disinterred the corpses. Churls make lust in the pews and play skittles down the aisle. Believe me, the living stones of our Church have been turned into a den of vice. (i) Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. That’s their motto. People shun the light of truth and turn to mercenary apostates: impious pretenders to divine authority; false prophets who promise deliverance from all earthly sins; goatskin Parfaits, who wreck havoc amongst our flock, making war with priest and pope alike.’

‘’Tis little wonder that people feel forsaken. Especially when the inquisition is so busy burning children.’

‘Forsaken? Do you know what those girls confessed?’

‘I have no idea. Though I shall hesitate to determine the truth of it.’

‘The truth of it was this: the girls were in combat with four of the most potent and malicious devils in hell; and for the last three years, had never been without a devil inside them.’

‘A confession prompted by their diabolical torturers, no doubt.’

‘You are mistaken. The inquisitor saw two unclean spirits like frogs come out of their mouths; but the other two devils refused to leave. Do not pity them prior. Both girls were highly skilled in maledictions; they confessed to defiling the Host with their own excrement, and attending the witches synoga. They committed many detestable and unutterable sins. Not least, they were frequently molested by sylvans and fauns – incubi – with whom they had a genuine corporeal connection. Coition with demons is assuredly the most heinous and carnal of crimes. A sin more grievous than any kind of bestiality, whether with dog, mule or goat. You cannot defend it.’

‘I do not. But amongst so many burnings, hangings and floggings, ’tis hard to determine the truth of the matter.’

‘The truth? The truth is trodden down like dirt under the Devil’s hoof. ’Tis written in Exodus: thou shalt not suffer a witch or a wizard to live.(ii) You pity those girls? You think me a monster? My god, even our priests are infected with heresy; the altars of Christ lie in ruins; baptism is denied, the host abominated; and the resurrection of the flesh is altogether rejected. That is the truth. All the sacraments of the church are annulled; and what is most diabolical all, Satan is introduced as Creator of the World! Some have renounced the Christian religion altogether. God, Christ, the Virgin and the cross! We cannot allow that to happen. Without baptism, the old evil will take root once more.’ he licks his fingers. ‘I can count on you, prior Odo, to preserve Mother Church in these baleful times?’

‘I shall preserve Mother Church to the death.’

‘Of course you will, you are a holy man. But you must remember, the influence of a demon, is twofold: it may attack a man’s body from without, or assume control from within. No one is immune to the Devil’s cunning. He may gain control at any time. Even of an innocent child.’

‘Believe me, I am no stranger to the power of demons. I have performed an exorcism myself.’

‘You have? Then you will understand what the Inquisition is up against.’

Tolen scowls at his food and prods a dark corpuscle with his fork:

‘What are these withered black things?’

‘Raisins.’

‘Forgive me: I am showing my ignorance. Tell me, do your brethren feast like this?’

‘No your holiness. Only the abbot. But he is a gluttonous licentious hog, and would make merry by feasting a parcel of Roman whores if he could.’

‘What of his other vices? Have you found proof to depose him? On my last visit, not a single grain was forthcoming. Remember, if we are to succeed, the evidence must be irrefutable… Although the inquisitor assures me that in cases such as this, ’tis easy to dispel with evidence altogether; a lie sufficiently repeated becomes believed even by its utterer.’ He winks. ‘But we are on dangerous ground as far as the pope is concerned. Remember, I have no jurisdiction here. So your testimony must be overwhelming and black as hell…’

‘Your holiness, I can assure you, the abbot is the devil’s disciple. He is a sorcerer of the black arts.’

‘That may be so. But can you prove it? He is also highly erudite and well versed in the scriptures.’

‘His protestations of holiness are just a smoke screen for his infernal practices. As for the pope, the abbot is an implacable opponent of all papal authority.’

‘And what of the other monks?’

‘They long to see him gone. He has made their lives a misery. He deprives us of all necessities. Our bread is so coarse and bitter that even the swine refuse it. But the abbot eats the finest loaves, baked with his own flour. He hordes our victuals and plunders the cellar. Squalor and misery prevail in all quarters except his own lodgings. The brethren are neglected and badly fed; some have no frocks or breeches; and having so little to wear, they are forced to stay in bed. Needless to say, the absence of breeches disqualifies them from Mass; much to the abbot’s delight, for he detests the holy office. He calls the Blessed Virgin a whore.’

Tolon splutters on his wine and gasps:

‘What did you say?’

‘That’s what he calls Her, your holiness: a whore.’

‘My god!’

‘I told you! He is evil incarnate. Earlier this year he issued an edict forbidding carnal union throughout the entire district. Last week a newborn babe was discovered in a hut, not far from the grange. The abbot ordered the child be thrown into the river and both parents were ploughed to death. The babe was found two days later, washed up in the briars; his little body had been ravaged by foxes.’

‘Infanticide is a crime punishable by death. There shall be no escape for him now. He will be lucky to get away with excommunication.’

‘He must be got rid of once and for all. Otherwise he shall request the legates intervention. Then the same corruption, the same pittances, the same seductive manners will deceive the brethren all over again. Believe me, as soon as you are gone, his old crimes and abuses will arise at once.’

‘Fear not. The inquisition is due any hour now.’

Odo turns pale and his eyes widen in surprise:

‘The inquisition is coming here tonight?’

‘Yes. I rode ahead with my men. The grand inquisitor insists on travelling in an iron carriage: ’tis safer for him that way, but it makes for a slow and cumbersome journey. His chaise is so heavy its wheels keep sinking in the mud; and the horses are easily tired. We parted after crossing the bridge. You were not expecting him?’

‘Well yes, but not tonight. Your letter made no mention of it. I didn’t realise you travelled together.’

Tolus grins:

‘This is my diocese after all, prior. Besides, I like to watch the inquisitor at work. He is very learned, and to hear him converse with heretics is most edifying. Despite what you may think, he is lenient with sinners, and only uses the iron as a last resort. I need not tell you that the inquisitor is keen to put abbot Adam to the question. And that is something I didn’t want to miss. Especially since I put my neck out defending your position. When I am satisfied of the abbot’s guilt, I will not hesitate in defying the papal legate. But until then, I must tread carefully. You must understand my tenuous position. Do not fear prior: with evidence of infanticide, the abbot’s fate is sealed. Does he know that I am here?’

‘That cunning fox has a sixth sense; when he got wind of your coming he fled.’

‘You have no idea where he’s gone?’

‘He is hiding in the caves.’

‘Caves?’

‘There is a souterraine beneath the abbey.’

‘Fear not. My men will seek him out.’

‘It could take some time: the souterraine is an uncharted labyrinth, and only the abbot knows its secrets. ’Tis there he conjures the dead.’

‘Necromancy? Are you sure? You have proof?’

‘He makes use of blood and the bodies of the dead. For demons love blood, and by its colour are easily excited. He has raised infernal spectres. Our house has been haunted by the hordes of hell. The brethren will confirm what I say. Ask them.’

The bishop shudders:

‘I do not doubt it, if the carvings in the cloister are anything to go by.’

‘His rood is far worse: an abominable heresy. I would have broken it up, but I wanted you to see it with your own eyes. The carving is most sinister—especially at night; the figures look so real, I sometimes fear them alive.’ (iii)

‘I shall view them at dawn.’

‘Not even our days are safe from his demonic assaults. He has conjured a mire of evil. If only you had been here in winter! We were plagued by a spectral freak; its appearance was always preceded by eerie chimes and a malignant stench, putrid as the grave. One night, I spied it from the corner of my eye—a rude mass of earth that limped about my bed.’

‘Did anyone else see it?’

‘Oh, we have all set eyes on something diabolical—though most are too frightened to speak of it. Believe me, when the abbot’s demons first attacked, the whole church shook to its foundations. Tiles were torn from the roof and our pallets overturned!’

Tolus drops his fork in astonishment and crosses himself:

‘In the name of God, I had no idea you were fighting such evil.’

‘They come in the dark hours—the dead—and lie heavy on our chests. They torment us with horrible visions, pinching our flesh and pulling our limbs.’

‘Your exorcism brought no relief?’

‘No your holiness. I am ashamed to admit that the exorcism failed to deliver us. Last night I awoke to see the dorter full of hideous little creatures dancing merrily; yet they were of so strange a shape that I cannot rightly describe them.’

‘This house is clearly suffering from an infestation of evil. The sooner we remove abbot Adam, the better for all.’

‘What if we can’t find him? What then? The situation has become quite impossible. The conversi are rebellious at the best of times, but now they are so fearful, they are absconding in droves. Even Ricon, the abbot’s son has fled.’

Odo’s tongue flits nervously across his lips, then he says:

‘Your holiness, I saw the orbs you spoke of.’

‘You did? When?’

‘Two appeared at Christmas, and another at Passiontide. I had just finished Vespers when brother Albert directed my attention to the southern sky. Between the hills there suddenly flashed an enormous luminous star: a brilliant orb, emitting dazzling rays of light—like a great diamond spinning in the heavens.’

‘Did it see you?’

‘See me? Well, I suppose it must have. I was so overcome, I fell to my knees. Then all of a sudden it made a huge jump towards the east; it swooped at immense speed straight for the abbey. There appeared a second orb, smaller and dimmer than the first. But as it got nearer, it began to spin and became more brilliant than the sun…’

‘My god!’

‘We ran toward the abbot’s lodging to get a better view, but just as we entered the precinct, the fireballs vanished. Then, in the blink of an eye, another appeared, high up on the hillside; it flickered like a dying flame and vanished in the pines; a moment later, it flared up again, illumining the woods with an orange glow. I thought the sun had come loose from his station! It began circling the valley and flew down the slopes, darting through the groves. I saw three brilliant rays of white light stride across the sky; they shone from mountain to zenith, throwing the clouds into bold relief. Then another light appeared, blood-red, directly over the abbot’s lodging. By the Virgin, it must have been within a foot of the roof! We stood spellbound as the orb rested there. But then it flashed, and quick as lightening, spun about the camera. When we saw that, we ran to church and locked the door. But the orb followed us and hovered at the windows. ’Twas such a ghostly light. We were sore afraid…’

‘Diabolus enim et alii dæmones. [The devil and the other demons]. They are harbingers of doom…’

‘Believe me, the abbot is at the bottom of it. He makes commerce with demonic intelligences.’

‘Perhaps they were witches.’

‘Witches? It seems improbable that a witch could attain such prodigious feats of flight. Witches are supposed to go about on sticks or brooms; or mounted on pigs and goats. But these orbs were nothing of the kind. The were altogether unearthly. Such high magic is beyond the knack of degenerate hags.’

‘Never doubt the power of a witch. Did not Symon the magician of Samaria rise into the air by means of the devil? We should not be surprised that a witch can attain even greater powers of flight, especially when Lucifer is Prince of the Air… Satan has wonderful facilities of locomotion, by which he becomes omnipresent. His apostate spirits roam the aerial regions. His agents are everywhere ubiquitous: one may supervise a witch in the hills, whilst another may superintend the affairs of the Saracens. His minions stretch far and wide over the whole earth; and His devils have dominion over the affairs of men. Including witches.’

‘Well, now you put it like that…’

‘So, the abbot has gone to ground, you say.’

‘Yes.’

‘When did you see him last?’

‘Epiphany.’

‘And he has been hiding ever since?’

‘Aye.’

The bishop thinks for a moment and his lips draw tight round his teeth. He taps an incisor with a finger nail then says:

‘Tell me more of this souterraine. If we are to catch the abbot, we must know what we are dealing with.’

‘Our church is built over a pagan spring. Beneath us lies an ancient rock riddled with caves; our founding fathers used them as an ossuary. There are countless passages with signs of human life that stretch back centuries. There’s no telling where the abbot may be. But my guess is that he’s hiding by the sacred spring; at least there he is assured a fresh supply of water.’

‘A sacred spring. How very interesting. You must take me there.’

‘Oh, but I do not know the way.’

‘Does anyone?’

‘Brother Lazarus. He drank the waters and was cured.’

‘Cured of what?’

‘Albinism. When he came to us, he had red eyes and pale flesh. The sun was to fierce for his constitution, so he spent his life in shadow. But the spring cured him. A miracle, he says.’

Tolon gets up and fondles his moustache.

‘An albino, you say?’

‘Yes, your holiness.’

‘And does he have any other distinguishing marks?’

‘Like most of the abbot’s seed, he suffers with cankers. But his are more akin to –’

‘…Horns?’

‘Why yes, but how did you know?’

‘Tell me prior, when did this monk first take up the cowl?’

‘Oh, he has only been with us a short while; not even a year. He is very talented. A prodigy the like of which I have never seen. He learnt Latin in a matter of weeks. And he knows the gospels by heart. Homo acri, acuto, vel solerti, ingenio. [A man of mercurial genius]. You should listen to him read, ’tis quite remarkable how – ’

‘…What’s his name again?’

‘Lazarus. But before he came to us he was known as Jac – ’

The bishop slams his fist on the table and snarls:

‘Jacques Vallin! Do you not know he is a warlock himself?’

‘What? Brother Lazarus? That’s preposterous!’

‘Jacques Vallin is wanted for the murder of a minorite and burning down the church of Monselle!’

Odo looks terrified. He gets up and trembles:

‘Brother Lazarus? Surely, you are mistaken. He is fervently devoted to god and an erudite scholar.’

‘Erudite scholar? He is a devil! And you are a fool!’

‘But –’

‘You, in your blind charity, have been harbouring a heretic!’

‘Heretic? I had no idea!’

‘Jacques Vallin is an execrable damned wretch! The village he hails from is cursed and destined to destruction for his wickedness. The people so feared him that they drove him away; he was forced to live in the wilderness, having no other covert but Hell. By the virgin! To think he has been hiding here all these years. I have been searching for him across six valleys! Six valleys—and all of them crawling with Cathars… Albigenses! We must seize him at once!’

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2008

i. Ecclesiastical and lay reports of parish life before and after The Black Death. XXIII Labour and Consideration, The Medieval Village, by G. G. Coulton.

ii. Exodus, 22:18.

iii. An old chronicler remarks that Veit Stoss, who was born in Nüremberg during the early fifteenth century, had made some life-sized figures of Adam and Eve, “so fashioned that one was afraid that they were alive!” Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages, by Julia De Wolf Addison.

Ultra-Terrestrial-Aetherian image montage © Nicholas Shea 2019 (assembled from public domain images).