Of Heretics and Ghosts: II

We leave Arnuad and Arnaud behind for a moment to turn to the world of 11th-ish century Iceland and the medieval ghost story of Thorgunna and Thurida. Normally I’d recap what happened in the previous post before continuing on, but this digression is entirely separate from the main story. So, enjoy Part I, but you don’t need it to understand what follows: except for the blue ghost elephant who’s narrating this particular ghost story. This story comes from the Icelandic Eyrbyggja Saga.

We begin at sea, off the shores of Iceland. A boat awaits the wind to carry them farther on their journey from Dublin to Dogvertharness. On board, one woman is thoroughly done with sailing.

A ship at sea off the shores of Iceland.
Ghost: One day, a ship came to harbor at Snowfall Ness, on its way from Dublin.
Sailor 1: The shores of Snowfall Ness!
Sailor 2: Just a good breeze is all we need...
Thorgunna: *thinking* I hate seafaring...
Sailor 3: *thinking* I miss the Hebrides already.
Sailor 4: ...To get us to Dogvertharness.

On shore, some soldiers gossip about the passengers now that the boat has docked in the harbor.

Soldiers on shore talking about the boat come to harbor.
Ghost: A local woman named Thurida heart that the passenger Thorgunna traveled with the finest treasure.
Soldier 1: One of the women has an exquisite wardrobe.
Soldier 2: Wonder how she came by it.

Thurida, quite interested in the latest fashions, goes on board to meet this Thorgunna.

Thurida goes on board the ship to meet Thorgunna.
Thurida: Is it true? You have the latest fashions?
Thurida: *thinking* Please say you'll sell. Please say you'll say.
Thorgunna: Yes. But I'm not parting with any of it.

Thorgunna, an older woman and quite tall, is very protective of her possessions.

Ghost: Nevertheless, Thorgunna let Thurida see what she had.
Thurida: *looking at clothes and thinking* This is supposed to be exquisite? Still...a new dress is a new dress..Not like we get much fashion out here.
Thurida: You sure you won't sell?
Thorgunna: Absolutely not.
Thurida: *thinking* Dammit.
Thorgunna: *thinking* On no...they're preparing to set sail. I'm so sick of this boat.
Thurida: Oh. Umm... Why don't you come stay with me? Enjoy some Icelandic hospitality?
Thorgunna: Okay.

Thorgunna accepts Thurida’s offer of hospitality and sets herself up in the guest room in the village of Froda.

Thorgunna comes to stay with Thurida. She sets up her guest room.
Ghost: Thurida was amazed at the gorgeous bed-clothes Thorgunna pulled from her trunk. Sheets of the finest linen, coverlets of silk, tapestries, and curtains. Thurida had never seen their like.
Thurida: What lovely bedding! And so much of it... I don't suppose you migh-
Thorgunna: I will not like like a pig in the rushes for you, madam!
Ghost: Thurida did not take that well. But Thorgunna had soon settled into life in Froda, even if only Thurida's son Kiartan liked her.
Thorgunna seen at the loom, going to church, and raking hay.
Ghost: One day, Thurida's husband Thorodd said:
Thorodd: It's a fine day! Time for some haymaking!
Ghost: When a sudden storm came, Thorgunna alone left her hay spread upon the ground.
Villager: So...that wasn't rain. It was blood.
Thurida: on no!
Thorgunna: Thurida, it is worse than you know. It is an omen. An evil omen, for you and your house and all in it. Now, I must go change.

I do wonder why it took so long for them to recognize it is as blood. But maybe that’s just me.

Thorgunna went to change and lay down in bed. She did not emerge again that day.

Thorodd: Thorgunna, you've not risen from bed for over a day.
Thorgunna: I am dying. I would dictate my will.
Thorodd: ...
Thorgunna: Listen well. Failure to follow my instructions will result in grave consequences. This affair has so begun, that it will not pass off smoothly, unless strong measures are taken dealing with it.
Thorgunna: I would be buried at Skalholt, for soon it shall be a sacred spot and there are priests there who will say prayers for my soul. My red gown may go to Thurida. That way she will consent to all the rest I require. My gold ring will go to the church. But my bedding - all of it - shall be burned. I ask this not because I grudge the use of these handsome articles to any, but because I foresee that the possession of them would be the cause of innumerable quarrels and heart-burnings.
Ghost: She died a few days later.

Skálholt would, in 1056, become one of two episcopal sees in Iceland.

After her death, Thorodd dutifully carried out the dictates of Thorgunna’s will.

Thorodd is preparing to burn Thorgunna's bedclothes.
Thurida: What are you doing?! You can't burn such beautiful sheets!
Thorodd: But... It was her final request.
Thurida and Thorodd argue.
Thurida: Nonsense! Thorgunna only desired this to be done because she was full of envy lest others should enjoy these incomparable treasures!
Thorodd: But... She threatened all kinds of misfortunes unless I did exactly what she said!
Thurida: Piffle. What misfortunes can a bunch of sheets and coverlets possibly cause?
Arnaud and Ghost, walking along and talking.
Ghost: They argued for a long while. At last, they came upon a compromise: Thorodd would burn the pillows and sheets, but Thurida would keep the beautiful hangings and becovers.
Arnaud: I thought this was supposed to be a ghost story.
Ghost: The living are so impatient. I'm getting there.

And I am getting there too. As you can tell, this ghost story is a long one. Next time, what happens when Thorgunna’s will is ignored.

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.