Saturday 27 April 2013

The restless dead in the Middle Ages

Did people in the Middle Ages believe in ghosts? They certainly believed in restless spirits, which they called revenants, from the Latin meaning ‘to return’. It was believed that the unquiet dead, particularly those who had died by violence or by reason of a grudge, or those who would not give up strong passions and carnal pleasures, would return to haunt the living. These revenants might appear within a graveyard or in a particular area, known to them in life, and terrorize the living.

In 'Dark Maiden' I have a woman who is tormented by a lusty revenant who comes to her bed and tries to lie with her. Yolande, my heroine, learns that in this case the restless dead is the woman's husband. As an exorcist, Yolande takes certain steps to ensure that his widow is no longer plagued. You can find out what she does in the novel.

Here's an excerpt to give you a flavour. Yolande is talking to the villagers in their church. All the things she speaks of were believed or done in the Middle Ages.

“Godith, I have said it already. This is no vampire,” Yolande repeated for the third time.
       “How do you know that?”
       “Because there is no plague, pestilence or disease here. There is a restless soul, a revenant, yes, but one drawn by love and desire, not by hate.” Her lips quivered slightly, the only sign of tension in her. “I will write a letter of absolution and the soul will find his rest.”
       “Does that mean the dreams—”
       “Another matter altogether. I will work on that when I have finished with the revenant.”
       “Yet how can that be, and so simple? A letter?”
       “Being a sacred scribe is not simple,” Geraint put in. He wanted to wag a finger at the noisy goodwife, but confined  himself to folding his arms across his chest. “Can you write, Mistress Reeve?”
        Even in the dim orange flames, he could see Godith blush. “We heard his dogs outside,” she exclaimed, as indignant as a hen pushed off its nest and determined to have her say. “They come because they dread him and how is that good? How can he be good?”
       “Whose dogs?” Yolande stepped forward into the heart of the nave and bore down on Godith. “Was he a huntsman, a forester? I promise I will harm nothing, do no injury to any of your kin, be they living or passed on.”
        She stood tall and slim as a lily, a gentle dark Madonna. The drooping garland of Christmas roses hung from her belt like a perfumed cloud, the candle and brazier flames surrounded her like a halo. “Please, let me help you. Let me help this poor soul to his final, honored rest.”
        “He was a huntsman for our lord. Martin, his name was,” remarked a quiet, weary voice. “He was my husband. He owned the dogs, though they come to me now, and often not only them… We buried him last month by the church gate so he can see our house.”
        A squat ball of a woman pushed through the reluctant villagers, with a son and daughter trailing behind like ducklings. When she looked up at Yolande, Geraint saw the grooved shadows under the woman’s eyes and could not help but notice how her homespun dress bagged on her.
       Martin liked his woman very plump, but she has lost much flesh of late.
       “Perhaps we buried him too close,” she was saying. “He can find us—find me—so easily. Father William said he would rest.”
        Father William knows little of rest himself these days. Geraint disliked the clergy but even he could find a little pity for this less-than-holy father.
       “Daughter, I can give him peace,” Yolande said gently. “He loved you greatly, yes?” And more gently still, “He seeks to remain with you? By day and by night? Does he come as himself, or as shadow?”
       “Shadow. Ah God!” The woman shuddered and fresh tears burst from her. Yolande swiftly drew her aside to the south wall of the nave, talking to her and her children in a low, urgent way. Geraint could tell it by the set of her shoulders and by the way she lifted and stretched out both arms as if to shield the stricken family.
       “She yours?”
        Geraint deigned to glance at the smith, disliking the fellow already, the more so because the fellow was still looming in church. “My lady is her own.”
        “Bitten off more than she can chew here, I wager.”

More details of 'Dark Maiden' here

Read Chapter One


Rose Anderson said...

Intriguing! Best luck. :)


Linda Acaster said...

Oh, very atmospheric. And "normal" within the constraints of the period, which I consider very well done.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

You never cease to amaze me with your variety in story subjects. I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm certain you'll have me convinced of their existence by the end of this intriguing new release.
All the best to you, Lindsay.

Ana Morgan said...

Love this history, Lindsay.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks so much for your supportive feedback, Rose, Linda, Sarah and Ana.
It really is much appreciated.

Carol McGrath said...

Well I never knew they called them revenants. I have learned something I may make a passing reference to in the current WIP. Really timely. Thank you for a great post and piece of very atmospheric writing too.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Many thanks, Carol. Best Lindsay