Deaths on a Sunday

I am terrified of backwards reincarnation. It is probably not number one in most peoples fears. More prosaic and unoriginal ones like cancer and car crashes possibly top the fear Top Ten but right now at 11.30 on a Sunday morning I am petrified of going back in time and waking up lice covered, chained and doomed in a cell at Lancaster Castle.

It is National Heritage weekend-places not normally open to the public are free to nose around and ones which normally charge are free, hence myself and a slightly befuddled baby are staring into the thick thick black of a cell where many people died. You can be locked up in there for a whole minute to have a Full Terror Experience-I decline and the people who smilingly enter look different when they come out-a bit of the sheen has been knocked off them and they are quieter. And probably in need of a double gin.

The past was really quite spectacularly terrible.  I feel slightly fobbed off in an age where Katie Price is headline news. We traipse around the castle listening to the cheery Geordie voice of the guide regaling us with all manner of treachery, betrayal, murders and uprisings- more people were sentenced to be hung here than at The Old Bailey in London and if you look up at the ceiling in the old court room, you can see gilded embossed nooses. A nice touch worthy of a psychopathic Laurence Llewellyn Bowen.

The pedant in me winces when hearing the story of the Lancaster witches cheerily told as truth, even down to shape shifting familiars as I feel this does a disservice to the innocent who died hideous deaths due to superstition, ignorance and malice. And I normally love a bit of superstition, ignorance and malice on a Sunday morning.

And talking of which-our next stop is St Thomas and Elizabeth Catholic church in Thurnham, formerly the private chapel of the Dalton family. A mausoleum gapes creepily open; only four spaces filled. I should feel somewhat cheated if I was one of the four interred, have a sneaking suspicion that my other relatives have somehow escaped death and are mocking my gullibility and naivety at embracing it so easily.

Inside the lavishly decorated church some elderly women are offering cups of tea and cakes like the last 100 years has never happened and discussing the surprising wetness of the tea towels.

There are treasures on display, glamorous kitsch Catholic ones replete with their own bloody histories of theft and death. It is turning out to be an excellent Sunday morning.

The wind has risen further and it is suddenly darkest dankest winter. Our last stop is the wind battered octagonal chapter house at Cockersands Abbey which was strangely enough used as a mausoleum by The Daltons of Thurnam Hall, whose church and mausoleum we have recently visited. A jolly grey haired woman pops up like a guardian elf in waterproofs and tells me the floor is on a higher level because of the mounds of dead underneath. The dead at St Thomas’s give a muffled cheer. It is a far less genteel resting place than the green peacefulness at Thurnham. A big gothic car boot sale, all tumbled old relics, faded inscriptions on weather-beaten stones haphazardly piled against the grey stone walls. It is exciting in its shambolicness, in the lack of artifice, brochures for sale or history tucked neatly away behind glass. Here history has been pulled in by inexperienced passionate hands from the elements who wail and howl outside as the sea churns and threatens and it is a very very real threat that soon this outcrop of history perched on the edge of the sea will soon be swallowed by it and it will only be remembered on laminated sheets looked at by the bored or curious on windy Septembers when history is free and the ground is quietly and slowly being washed away.

2 Responses to “Deaths on a Sunday”

  • Butterflyexperience Says:

    Very poetic :)

    I find religious history extremelly dark and full of death when religion is supposed to be full of love and acceptance.
    Your post reflects the darkness of religious history 1st hand which I think without it would be easy to gloss over and romance religion.
    Not sure if I make sense to to others with this post!

  • cyberfairy Says:

    You do to me! History, especially religious history make slasher films look tame. People were disembowelled for having a book as incense was burnt and crowds cheered. Just read an excellent book called Witchlight by Susan Fletcher about the Glencoe massacre and an alleged witch and it was excellent in portraying the cruelty of organised religion.

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