I have just begun watching Les Revenants, a fabulus French television series created by Fabrice Gobert. Stunning, stunning, stunning. But our television people have translated it as The Returned.
Don’t they remember that we English have revenants too?
Someone’s found a vampire.
Or rather, they have found documents telling us precisely where the vampire is buried.According to the Telegraph, the vampire was found back in 1959 in the Nottinghamshire minster town of Southwell, when archaeologists were digging up the minster and the churchyard in search of the remains of a Roman Villa. And the documents have only just come to light once again.
The unusual burial – dating back to between 500-700AD – was found by archaeologist Charles Daniels. And the reason I refer to it as a vampire is because there are metal spikes through its shoulders, heart and legs.
That was how people dealt with those they feared, back then. Dead wasn’t enough, because everyone knew that if they weren’t dead enough, they might just wake up and begin a spell or revenance: return.
So someone dangerous must be despatched to the afterlife with a certain finality.
Thus, a small number of strange burials have been found from those early times. Archaeologists call them ‘deviant burials’. Not strictly limited to vampires, they also encompassed the generally dangerous human being. Someone different.
The strange tales that emerge from early England outstrip the traditional fairy tales for colour.
About three hundred years after this particular vampire was laid to rest with shuddering finality, it is thought an old Roman folk-tale was re-worked to cause a stir. And at the centre of the story was a woman of English descent. Deviant, she was: but for a time she fooled and ruled the world
A young woman of experience, born in Metz of English extraction, arrived in Athens, some time in the 11th century. And due to some lover’s whim, she arrived dressed in men’s clothing.
She was rather brilliant. And with her disguise she had found the means to use her abilities, for a man might progress well with skills such as hers. Her name was Joan. She studied under professors in Athens, mastering every discipline she tried, equalling and surpassing all around her. She rose through the ranks, perceived by all as an unparalleled man of letters.
Until, one day, Pope Leo IV died.
And eyes were cast around for a successor, and whom should they alight on but Joan.
She took the job. She was Pope John VIII. And for a while everything seemed to be going well.Except than Joan had a weakness for men, and after a year and a half, she found herself with child.
A slender soul, she hid it well. But horseback rides towards the end of a term are nor recommended.
If you are a deviant, you might as well go out in style. Joan was processing from St Peter’s to the Lateran in suitable pomp when the waters broke and there and then, the pope gave birth to a child.
Can you imagine? The tattle? It would have kept gossips the world over happy for the rest of their lives.
In a wicked aside the legend hints at a ritual to which subsequent popes were subjected. They had to sit on a ‘dung chair’ – one with a hole in it – while a Cardinal reached up to check he had testicles. If they were present the cardinal would solemnly intone: ”Duos habet et bene pendentes“: “He has two, and they dangle nicely.”
Some say Joan died naturally; some say she was dragged for a mile behind that fine papal horse and then stoned. There are many variations. But the street on which the pope gave birth, it is said, was renamed after that debacle.
It used to be called Via Sacra: Sacred Way.
And they renamed it: Shunned Street.
There are many ways to make sure the dead stay in their place. Sometimes a stake through the heart is the only way. But with a woman: the weight of post-mortem disgrace can be enough.