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  • Jesus Christ and an Egg from Leeds March 18, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing has recently become curious about a passage in Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (160).

    ‘A panic terror of the end of the world seized the good people of Leeds and its neighbourhood in the year 1806. It arose from the following circumstances. A hen, in a village close by, laid eggs, on which were inscribed the words, ‘Christ is coming’. Great numbers visited the spot, and examined these wondrous eggs, convinced that the day of judgment was near at hand. Like sailors in a storm, expecting every instant to go to the bottom, the believers suddenly became religious, prayed violently, and flattered themselves that they repented them of their evil courses. But a plain tale soon put them down, and quenched their religion entirely. Some gentlemen, hearing of the matter, went one fine morning, and caught the poor hen in the act of laying one of her miraculous eggs. They soon ascertained beyond doubt that the egg had been inscribed with some corrosive ink, and cruelly forced up again into the bird’s body. At this explanation, those who had prayed, now laughed, and the world wagged as merrily as of yore.’

    Beachcombing wondered though whether this ever really happened – Mackay is generally more interested in demonstrating the madness of crowds than actually giving good, stand-up sources. Alarm bells particularly went off when going through contemporary Leeds newspapers he could find nothing that approximated to this story.

    However, he did find a reference in the Leeds Mercury Jan 30 1890 that he includes here as a footnote to Mackay’s immortal work. A reader had written in and is discussing one Mary Bateman – his source appears to be The Annals of Leeds, York and Surrounding District (1865), a text that Beachcombing has not, damnation, been able to examine.

    ‘[Mary Bateman] was a Leeds sibyl and lived in Camp Field… The first mention of her occurs in a passage under… January, 1806, stating – ‘‘This month the credulous of Leeds were much alarmed by a cunning prophetess (Mary Bateman), who displayed a hen’s egg, inscribed ‘Christ is Coming’ and their fear was still more awakened by George Hey, the Kirkstall prognosticator, who advertised in the most solemn manner that he was ‘commissioned by heaven to announce that on Whit-Monday, in the year 1806, the world would be destroyed by torrents of fire’’.

    No more information is given here but Mary Bateman was executed March 20 1809 for poisoning. When she was dissected three pence was asked of all the crowd that had turned up to see her and thirty pounds was raised for the General Infirmary…

    Working backwards using ‘Mary Bateman’ Beachcombing found a brief reference in the Leeds Mercury for 22 Oct 1808: ‘It is worthy of observation that Mary Bateman is the person whose hen laid an egg about two years ago, at the bank in this town [?!], bearing this marvellous inscription, ‘Christ is coming’.

    One egg then?

    Beachcombing can add that her body can be seen at the Thackray Museum in Leeds to this day and hopes soon to visit Mary.

    This is the closest equivalent that Beachcombing knows from the Christian tradition to the wild press reports that sometimes race across the Arab world when the word ‘God’ is found on the inside of a watermelon. Christians don’t seem to do miraculous writing: or do they? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Beachcombing can’t resist by closing with a recent Sicilian recipe he stumbled on that requires a whole chicken ‘preferably with an unlaid egg’.


    18 March 2011: Sanday writes in to say that there are various books on Mary Bateman (all of which seem to be incredibly expensive): could anyone see to getting Beach access at a reasonable price? Note the criminal spelling mistake that should have got the copyeditor hung drawn and quartered. Thanks Sanday!!

    20 March 2011: First an email from Roy S who reminds Beachcombing that the Judeo-Christian tradition does do mysterious writing in as much as in Daniel 5 has God write words on the wall with his finger. This set off vague bells about Christ writing something in the gospels (in the sand?) but Beachcombing couldn’t find it and, in any case, that is a different question. Invisible, meanwhile, has written in with the following considerations: ‘I speculate that Christians have less religious dermography [skin writing] (not sure if that term can be applied to holy aubergines or watermelons) than Muslims because Christianity offers a wider choice of miracles than Islam, which has no miraculous statues, weeping icons, or holy apparitions and must make do with its tradition of calligraphy.’ This Beachcombing suspects is a key observation. Could it also be that Arabic is better suited to ‘miraculous’ swirls in nature than the clunky western alphabets? In any case, Invisible continues quoting from The Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor ‘DERMOGRAPHY, skin writing; a phenomenon of the stigmatic class, with one essential difference: the real stigmatic writings last for months, years or throughout a lifetime, whereas skin writing disappears in a few minutes or in a few hours at the most. For that very reason the possibilities of fraud in skinwriting are wide. Given the sensitive skin of neuropsychopaths writing may appear in a few minutes after the letters are directly traced by any blunt instrument or the nails. As a preliminary to skin-writing demonstrations many mediums burn up the pellet on which a name or question is written and rub their arm or forehead with the ashes. The rubbing process may give a good opportunity for covertly tracing the intended message. In at least one case on record this tracing was done telekinetically. Manuel Eyre testified before the London Dialectical Committee of his experience with Mrs. Seymour at Waukeegan, near Chicago, as follows: ‘In trance she would hold out one arm, and with the forefinger of the other hand make a rapid motion as if writing, the movement of the finger being in the air about a foot from the arm; a few minutes after she stripped off her sleeve, and there on her arm, so distinctly written that it could be read across the room, was the peculiar signature of the spirit giving the communication.’ According to the American Spiritual Telegraph the writing on Mrs. Seymour’s arm appeared in raised letters and could both be seen and felt distinctly for fifteen or twenty minutes. Gradually it faded away, leaving the skin natural, smooth and uncolored. Mrs. Seymour appeared several times before an investigating committee of Milwaukee but the committee could find no explanation and broke up without making a report. In the case of Miss Coggswell of Vermont the writing appeared on her arms and forehead in answer to mental questions. The part which suggestion may play in such demonstrations was shown recently (1933) at the Institut Metapsychique of Paris, where Mme. Olga Kahl produced on her skin a mentally communicated word or image. Hysterical patients may further complicate the problem. Kraft-Ebing records that the writing traced on the anaesthetic right side of d’Ilma S. appeared reversed on the left side. Thomas Killigrew testified to the appearance of the names of St. Joseph and the Virgin upon the hands of the Prioress of the Ursuline nuns at Loudon in France, about the year 1635 in the following way: ‘I saw her hand, white as my hand, in an instant change color all along the vein and become red and all of a sudden a word distinctly appeared, and the word was Joseph.’ During the religious revival in Northern Ireland writing on the skin was of common occurrence. In the case of mediums the demonstration is always of doubtful value, unless the moral reputation of the psychic is high. Such is the case of Stainton Moses on whose arm on October 12, 1873, the following names appeared: Imperator, Mentor, Solon and Plato. Solon’s name was impressed with a capital Sigma. Charles H. Foster, the ‘Salem Seer’ gave abundant demonstrations of the phenomenon. Before the Dialectical Society Edward Laman Blanchard told the story of how the name of his father appeared in red letters on the arm of the medium and immediately afterwards, in answer to a question, the numbers 24 on the palm of his hand, indicating the number of years since his death. The phenomenon was very rapid, the letters and numbers disappearing in the sight of those present without the arm of the medium being withdrawn. Dr. Ashburner examined Foster’s skin-letters under a powerful magnifying glass. He observed clearly that they were in relief and that the coloring matter was under the skin. The color disappeared after two or three minutes. Foster’s biographer, George C. Bartlett, describes an amusing incident. A certain Mr. Adams came to consult Foster. He saw the room filled with spirits in his presence. About two o’clock the next morning he woke up, complained to Bartlett that he could not sleep as the room was still filled with the Adams family. They were writing their names all over him. To his astonishment Bartlett counted eleven distinct names, one written across Foster’s forehead, others on his arms, and several on his back. Sometimes the writing is pictographic. A case was reported in the American Spiritual Telegraph of the appearance of a clearly-defined human heart with a wound, as if made by a bullet, on Miss Coggswell’s arm in answer to the desire of a sitter that his friend who died shot in the heart should manifest. A still more graphic phenomenon was exhibited in New England by the servant girl of Mr. Lewis Burtis. In the presence of a colored editor, as narrated by Emma Hardinge in Modern American Spiritualism, red lines had formed ‘into a distinct and beautifully-represented picture of a kneeling man, with a woolly head and African cast of features, a chain round his waist terminating in two balls, which were ingeniously fitted into the veins at the end of the arm, whilst above the whole was written in fine character the words: ‘A poor old slave’. The girl in question was nearly illiterate. Messages frequently appeared on her arm while she was at her household work and would disappear after having been read by her master and mistress. Of the mechanism of skin-writing we know nothing. Conan Doyle suggested that concentration by an invisible entity may have a similar effect upon the medium as the self-concentration of religious ecstatics.’ Thanks to Roy and Invisible!

    25 Oct 2011: Over the last months Southern Man, Invisible and Leeds Laura have all written in to report that Mary Bateman’s history is set out in S. Baring Gould’s Yorkshire Oddities. We’ve only just got down to reading the chapter and from this it is clear that MB was a singularly unpleasant con lady. E.g. ‘Mary Bateman next became acquainted with a tradesman’s wife of the name of Cooper. She persuaded this woman that her husband was about to abscond, and take with him all the property he could raise, and that she might not be left quite destitute, Mary prevailed upon her to convey as much of the furniture as she could out of the house, including an excellent clock, and to lodge all this furniture at Bateman’s. There it did not remain long. Mary took it all to the pawnbroker’s, got for it what it would fetch, and left the abused husband and his credulous wife to redeem it at their leisure.’ But as to those famous eggs, SBG gives us a little more information: ‘Blown upon as the credit of Mrs. Bateman’ witchcraft then was, she removed from Timble Bridge to the Black Dog Yard, at the Bank. While she lived here one of her hens laid a wonderful egg, remarkable for bearing this inscription— ‘Christ is coming’. But as so singular a phenomenon was not likely to obtain all the credit necessary for carrying into effect her fraudulent intentions unless supported by some kind of proof, she had the ingenuity and cruelty to contrive that two other eggs, bearing similar inscriptions, should be deposited in the nest by the same unfortunate hen. Persons flocked from all quarters to see the wonderful eggs, and they who dared to disbelieve stood a good chance of being maltreated by the credulous multitude. Mary’s motive for producing those eggs is not well made out, but it is supposed that she had at that time a notion of following the example of Joanna Southcote, as she was then in the habit of attending the meetings of the sect founded by that extraordinary woman. Mary succeeded in realising no inconsiderable sum by means of these eggs, for she made those who came to see the miracle pay a penny each for the gratification of their curiosity.’ Thanks Invisible, Leeds Laura and Southern Man!