Of Heretics and Ghosts: I

Part I: Ghost Train


It’s October and at the pace time has been passing for me, tomorrow will be Halloween. So I figured it’s a good time to tell a ghost story. Don’t worry, there’s still crime involved (heresy, to be precise)! And we’ll be getting to it, just not in today’s installment.

We begin with the priest Arnaud de Monesple speaking with inquisitors. (You know it’s gonna be a good one if inquisitors are involved!) His name suggests he or is family is from Monesple, which makes sense, given he’s the priest of Saint-Antonin in Pamiers, about 15km to the northeast.

Why’s he being questioned by the inquisition? Well, that’s thanks to Arnaud Gélis, who evidently liked his drink so much he earned himself the sobriquet “the Drunkard.”

It’s around 1317 when Arnaud the Drunkard pays Father Arnaud a visit.

Yeah, no, Father Arnaud almost certainly did not wear a cross earing. He’s not nearly that goth, despite living at the tail end of the period of high gothic architecture. But priests’ collars (aka clerical collars) weren’t invented until the 19th century and besides, I wasn’t going to try to draw one onto an elephant.

To the inquisitors, the Drunkard’s willingness to tell the priest a secret is immediately suspicious. They had already determined Arnaud the Drunkard to be a heretic. How much worse if the village priest was also one!

Traveling with the dead… Not a typical heretical belief.

The inquisition is in town to suss out any Cathars who might be lingering in the area. The Cathar heresy came to serious attention by the Church at the beginning of the 13th century. In the 1220s, there was even a whole war to try to try to exterminate the Cathars (known as the Albigensian Crusade). Yet, inquisitors suspected that enclaves persisted even after a hundred years of effort to eradicate them. This is how our two Arnauds and a bunch of other people ended up being brought before a tribunal and questioned.

That said, Catharism is not known for parades of dead people. Keep in mind, we’re still over twenty years away from the Black Death, and even longer from the widespread emergence of the Danse Macabre motif.

Danse Macabre from Koper Regional Museum

In other words, this is weird.

It gets weirder.

Why is Arnaud seeing ghosts? How much exactly did he have to drink before coming to speak with the priest?

Who’s Thorgunna?

We’re getting to all that. Next week, I’ll tell the ghost story of Thorgunna. Not actually part of the trial of Father Arnaud or Arnaud the Drunkard, but:

  1. It’s October.
  2. I have no idea what Arnaud and the ghosts supposedly talked about. Probably the woe of life and trapped spirits, but who knows? Could have been about where to get the best wine, or about buried treasure, or possibly unrequited love. All right, probably it was more spiritual than that, if we’re granting Arnaud the benefit of the doubt that he did speak with ghosts.
  3. Also, why isn’t he more freaked out about talking to ghosts? And why is he traveling with them? Is he a ghost?! I see dead people…

Okay, enough of that. Next week, a ghost story within a ghost story. It also involves crime, or at least a trial. You’ll see.