jump to navigation
  • A Medieval Zombie in Berwick! February 20, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback


    ***Dedicated to the Count who sent this in***

    Beach has put up several medieval zombie stories over the last months. This is the final in the series (well until we find some more). It is another from the quill of William of Newburgh. We are in Berwick in that dangerous borderland between England and Scotland.

    In the northern parts of England, also, we know that another event, not unlike this and equally wonderful, happened about the same time. At the mouth of the river Tweed, and in the jurisdiction of the king of Scotland, there stands a noble city which is called Berwick. In this town a certain man, very wealthy, but as it afterwards appeared a great rogue, having been buried, after his death sallied forth (by the contrivance, as it is believed, of Satan) out of his grave by night, and was borne hither and thither, pursued by a pack of dogs with loud barkings; thus striking great terror into the neighbors, and returning to his tomb before daylight.

    This ‘borne hither and thither’ is interesting: we’d need the original Latin, something we won’t have time to do until the summer. But note that the zombie is not controlling his own actions apparently and as will soon become apparent, the dogs are not in control either.

    After this had continued for several days, and no one dared to be found out of doors after dusk – for each dreaded an encounter with this deadly monster – the higher and middle classes of the people held a necessary investigation into what was requisite to he done; the more simple among them fearing, in the event of negligence, to be soundly beaten by this prodigy of the grave; but the wiser shrewdly concluding that were a remedy further delayed, the atmosphere, infected and corrupted by the constant whirlings through it of the pestiferous corpse, would engender disease and death to a great extent; the necessity of providing against which was shown by frequent examples in similar cases. They, therefore, procured ten young men renowned for boldness, who were to dig up the horrible carcass, and, having cut it limb from limb, reduce it into food and fuel for the flames. When this was done, the commotion ceased.

    The zombie then is a vector for disease. Note too the ‘whirlings’, in absence of the Latin, is the zombie perhaps flying? The next passage is curious.

    Moreover, it is stated that the monster, while it was being borne about (as it is said) by Satan, had told certain persons whom it had by chance encountered, that as long as it remained unburned the people should have no peace. Being burnt, tranquility appeared to be restored to them; but a pestilence, which arose in consequence, carried off the greater portion of them: for never did it so furiously rage elsewhere, though it was at that time general throughout all the borders of England, as shall be more fully explained in its proper place.

    So the good folk of Berwick paid for having a wealthy zombie in their midst. But what is all this about Satan bearing the zombie. Is this just banal, Satan and the zombie are evil? Or is there really a sense that the zombie is being directed. Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    22 Feb 2013:  Bob and the Count send in the Latin. This is an old edition and some bit read badly… Be warned. ‘In aquilonalibus quoque Angliae partibus aliud non dissimile & aeque prodigiosum eodem tempore nouimus accidisse. Est vicus nobilis ad hostium Tuidi fluminis qui Berewic dicitur de jure Regis Scottorum. Ibi quidam vir pecuniosus, sed pessimus, ut postea plenius claruit, post fata sepultus, operatione, ut creditur,Sathanas, noctibus egrediebatur ex tumulo,& canum,cum ingenti latratu, prosequente turba huc illucque ferebatur, & multo cunctis accolis terrore incusso, ante lucem tumulo reddebatur. Cumque hoc per dies fieret plurimos, & nullus iam auderet post vesperum foris inveniri, dum omnes exitialis monstri formidarent occursum: quidnam agendum esset, necessarium inter se maiores simul & mediocres habuere tractatum, metuentes scilicet simpliciores ex ipsis, si forte negligentius ageretur, ab exanimi prodigio maturius siigillari; prudentiores vero caute reputantes, ne forte tardante remedio ex crebro pestiferi cadaueris circumactu infectus corruptusque aer, morbos & mortes gigneret plurimorum: quod utique praecavendum crebris in re consimili clarebat exemplis. Conduxerunt itaque decem iuuenes audacia insignes, qui corpus insandum effoderent, & membratim exectum redigerent in combustionem & cibum. Quod & factum est & cessauit quassatio. Nam & ipsum monstrum, dum circumferretur a Sathana, sicut dictum est, quibusdam forte obvium dixisse perhibetur, quod eo incombusto populus requiem habiturus non esset. Eo ergo combusto data quidem videbatur populo requies: sed exorta consequenter lues maiorem illius populi partem absumpiit. Nusquam enim alibi tam dire desaeviit, cum in cunctis ipso tempore extiterit Angliae finibus generalis, ut fuo loco plenius exponetur.’ Thanks Count and Bob!

    23 Feb 2013: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books writes in: I think that there is a very real sense that the “zombie” is being controlled by the Devil. Although the essay is primarily about post-mortem absolution, Herbert Thurston, S.J., discusses several walking dead stories by William of Newburgh and quotes Leo Allatius and John Nesteutes about how the Devil animates corpses in “Brucolaccas: A Study of Mediaeval Ghost Lore.”  I regret that I don’t have the originals, but here are some salient passages from Father Thurston’s article: From Leo Allatius’ tract, De Quorundam Graecorum Opinationibus, a form of zombie or vampire, the Burcolacca: After describing the appearance of these corpses, he says, “Into this hideous carcase the devilenters and hatches evil against unfortunate mortals. For often under the covering of this body sallying forth from the tomb and ravaging the city and other populous places, especially by night, he comes to any house he chooses and knocking at the door, the man calls out in loud tones to some one of the inmates. If he answers it is all over with him, and he dies the very day after. If he answer not, then he is safe. Hence it arises that in that island all the inhabitants, whenever anyone calls to them at night, make no answer the first time, for if the call comes a second time, then they know that it is not Burcolacca, but somebody else. And this plague, they say, is such a scourge to man that, even in the daytime and even at noontide itself, it not only comes to their houses, but it accosts passers-by in the fields and on the highways and in the enclosures of their vineyards, and makes an end of them sometimes by the simple horror of the sight, without even speaking to them or touching them. If those who behold the monster speak to it, the spectre disappears, but he who spoke is a dead man. The people, therefore, when they see many dying all around them without any pestilence or other visible cause, suspecting the true reason, open the tombs in which any recently deceased persons may be buried, sometimes at once, sometimes after an interval, and there they find a corpse incorrupt and distended. They drag it from the tomb, and then the priests say prayers and they throw the body upon a burning pile, and before their supplications are well over, the body begins to fall to pieces, and all that remains is burnt and reduced to ashes. And this from the Nomocanon, attributed to John the Faster: It is not possible that a dead man should become a Broucolaccas [sic], as they call it. But it may happen that the devil, wishing to delude men into committing unlawful deeds that so they may incur the anger of God, performs these marvels, and works upon the imagination of people to make them believe that they meet in the night-time certain persons whom they once knew and lived with. And accordingly they dream that they have seen some spectre, occasionally it may even be in the street, and they see him walking or standing, and not only that, but he throttles men sometimes. Oh, wretched folly! Does a dead man walk abroad, and slay the living? God forbid. None the less men get excited, and off they rush to the grave, and they dig up the earth to look at the body. And since they have not proper faith, the devil transforms himself and he puts on the body of that dead man like a garment, and that dead man who had lain so long in the grave appears to them as if it had flesh and blood and nails and hair. Then, seeing this by their deluded imagination, these miserable men rush headlong into evil. They heap up logs, they light a fire, they burn the body and utterly destroy it, and in their blindness they do not perceive that in that terrible second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ they are preparing punishment for themselves in that inextinguishable fire where they will burn forever. . . . Know then that if ever there be found such acorpse, which is, as we have said, the work of the devil, let the priests be called, and let them sing invocations to the Mother of God, let there be a short purification with holy water; then let Mass be celebrated, let the all-holy Virgin be exalted for the succour of all, and let commemorations of the departed be made with [cakes]. After that, read over the body the exorcisms of St. Basil the Great, and two of those for baptism, sprinkle the people with the holy water and pour what remains over the corpse,and then from that corpse, by God’s grace, the devil will straightway take flight. As for the “whirlings” of the Berwick “zombie, exempla are full of stories of the devil or demons catching up humans and flying with them. For example, in Caesarius of Heisterbach’s Dialogue on Miracles, we find in Book V (Of Demons) Chapter XXVII, a story of how the Devil can make a man fly: “Of the lay-brother Theodoric, who was carried by the devil from the city of Lubeck.” One of our lay-brothers, Theodoric of Soest, told me that when he was a young man, a friend of his promised to make love to a certain girl in Lubeck on his behalf. He gained the assent of the young woman, but when Theodoric hoped to win her, his friend showed that he had been making a mock of him, and had wooed her for himself. When Theodoric learnt of this he was very angry and cried: “The devil who brought me here will be able to take me away again.” Immediately upon this invitation the devil appeared, picked up the man and lifted him into the air, and carrying him away from the town, set him down in an out of the way place by the shore of a certain lake, and then said to him: “If you had not in some fashion made the sign of the cross, I should have killed you just now”; for when he was carried off he had crossed himself, though very slightly and imperfectly. When let go by the demon, he fell so heavily that he lay senseless on the ground vomiting blood. At last, regaining a little of his strength, he crawled on hands and knees to the water, washed his face and drank a little, and then with great toil, reached his lodging. When he entered the house, as soon as the light met his eyes, he fell again into a fainting fit. They summoned the priest, who read over him the first chapter of S. John’s gospel, and fortified him against the attacks of the devil with prayer. For a whole year he suffered so much from trembling in all his limbs that he could not hold a cup in his hand to drink from it. He used to tell how when the devil carried him away and held him tightly in his arms, he could see the church of S. Nicholas and all the buildings of the city standing out clearly in the bright light of the moon. You have an almost similar story in the eleventh chapter of the third book, which tells of Henry, also a citizen of Soest, whom the devil snatched up from the market place at night, and after carrying him beyond the monastery of S. Patroclus, set him down in a field. So baleful and so poisonous is the nature of demons, that men are often injured by the mere sight of them. Later in the same book we find a story of a gambler dragged through a roof by the Devil “so roughly, that his bowels were torn out by the broken tiles.” [Chapter XXXIV Of the knight Thiemon, whose bowels were torn out by the devil after playing dice with him.] There are several other similar stories about men being carried into the air, so obviously it was a known talent of the Evil One. Latin. Thanks, Chris!