Wednesday, October 17, 2012

James-A-Day: An Episode of Cathedral History

Today's story is a very spooky one, but we receive it at two removes--the author is writing up notes made 20 years previously by a scholar who wrote down the childhood memories of an elderly man.  There is so much ordinary stuff about cathedral archives and renovations that the horrible creatures come as a shock.  This is just what MRJ liked to pull off; he wrote: “Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way.  Let us see them going about their ordinary business undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment, let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage.” 

Canterbury Cathedral choir
James based his fictional cathedrals on a mixture of Canterbury, Salisbury, and Hereford.  There is no cathedral in Southminster, only a church; I don't think he would have wanted to besmirch the name of a real cathedral by implying that it was haunted.

It looks to me as though there are actually two monsters or creatures or whatever they are in this story.  I think that might be new for an MRJ story--both his ghosts and his scholars are usually loner types.  We have one imprisoned under the pulpit, and once the pulpit is gone, it starts waking up and struggling to get out.  Meanwhile its mate, or its friend, is running around the cathedral close every night, scaring everyone out of their wits, and it would probably be a bad idea to leave any animals unsecured out there.  But once the bound monster escapes (and it, naturally, is "all over hair"), they are never heard of again.

The inscription, "Ibi cubavit Lamia," is from the Vulgate Bible.  I have two quite different translations of the phrase here.  The KJV renders it as "There hath the lamia lain down and found rest for itself."  Rosemary Pardoe shows it as "There shall be the lair of the night monster."

And Rosemary Pardoe has quite an interesting short article about an apparent hoax based on this story!  Head over to the Ghosts and Scholars archive and read "The Demon in the Cathedral."


Nancy Leek said...

Or maybe it means "Here is Lamia's cubby." I wonder how long before I meet a preschooler named Lamia?

Jean said...

It would be spelled LaMia!