British Museum MS. Royal 15 A. xx. fo. 140 b

I. De quodam spiritu cuiusdam mercenarii de Ryeuall' qui adiuuit hominem ad portandum fabas. Quidam homo equitauit super equum suum portantem super se vnum modium fabarum. Qui equus cepsitauit in via et fregit tibiam. Quo percepto vir tulit fabas super dorsum suum proprium: et dum iret per viam vidit quasi equum stantem super pedes posteriores, pedibus anterioribus sursum erectis. Qui perterritus prohibuit equum in nomine ihesu christi ne noceret ei. Quo facto ibat cum eo quasi equus, et post paululum apparuit in figura acerui de feno rotantis, et lumen erat in medio. Cui dixit viuus Absit quod inferas mihi malum. Quo dicto apparuit in figura hominis, et ille coniurauit eum. Tunc spiritus dixit ei nomen suum et causam et remedium, et addidit Permitte me portare fabas et adiuuare te. Et fecit sic usque ad torrentem sed noluit transire vlterius, et viuus nesciuit qualiter saccus fabaram iterum ponebatur super dorsum suum. Et postea fecit spiritum absolui et missas cantari pro eo et adiutus est.

  • Synopsis
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Story I involves the shape-shifting ghost of a hired-servant who appears to a man transporting a bushel of beans on his back due to an equine accident. After the man invokes the name of Jesus, the ghost eventually takes human shape and helps him carry the beans. Afterwards the man does what is necessary to help the ghost find eternal rest. (LR)


1. Concerning a certain ghost of a certain hired servant from Rievaulx who helped a man to carry beans. A certain man was riding on his horse carrying over himself a peck of beans. His horse stumbled on the road and broke its leg. When the man noticed this he carried the beans on his own back: and while he was walking on the road he saw something like a horse standing on its hind legs, with its fore legs raised on high. The man, completely terrified, prohibited in the name of Jesus Christ the horse from harming him. With this done, the apparition walked with him as if it were a horse, and after a little while it appeared in the shape of a revolving bale of hay and there was light in the middle. To which the living man said, " God forbid that you bring evil to me." After this was said, it appeared in the shape of a man and he conjured it. Then the ghost told him his own name and both the reason and remedy, and he added, "Allow me to carry the beans and to help you. And he did thus all the way to a river but he did not want to cross beyond it, and the living man did not know how the sack of beans again was placed over his own back. And afterwards he made sure that the ghost was absolved and that masses were sung on the ghost's behalf and the ghost was helped. (LR)

line 1 mercenarii de Ryeuall' probably a hired servant from Rievaulx abbey. 
Ryeuall' a small village in North Yorkshire within the North York Moors National Park near Helmsly, where there was a prosperous Cistercian abbey founded in 1132 and dissolved in 1538. 

line 2 hominem the living man in this story has not been given a name or even a blank place for a name. This could be because the man's name was lost in the handing down of the story over time.

line 3 modium a bushel of beans weighs about 60 pounds.
fabarum the fava bean was an important food and protein source throughout the medieval world and were especially important for the lower classes (Adamson 5-6). Schmidt states that beans were traditionally associated with death (144). Fava beans were also seen as the lost souls of the dead. 

line 4 cepsitauit in via the horse stumbles "on the road" so this was probably caused by some uneven or out of place paving stone.

lines 5-6 quasi equum the spirit does not appear exactly as a horse but as a horse-like figure, the use of quasi is used to describe this.

line 9 acerui de feno rotantis "So in II a ghost is said to appear 'in specie dumi' (as I read it), i.e. of a thorn-bush. In several of these stories the ghosts are liable to many changes of form" (MRJ).
It appears that these changes in shape are to attract the attention of the onlooker even to make them fearful enough to evoke God and allow the spirits to talk (Simpson 397-400).

line 11 coniurauit conjuring was the way to allow spirits to talk to the living, it involved a blessing with the sign of the cross or calling upon the power of God to allow the spirit to talk in some way.

line 12 causam et remedium "the reason of his 'walking' and how he could be helped. The spirit tells how he could be helped" (MRJ).
The causes are the spirit's unrepented sins. The spirit also tells the man his name and how he could resolve the spirit's stay in purgatory.

line 14 noluit transire vlterius Schmidt sees the river as a symbolic border (144). It is commonly believed that a ghost cannot cross water because the water represents purity, possibly because it is seen as a life source for all living things. The river could also be seen as a kind of boundary between the living and the dead, as in Lucan's Bellum Civile VI where a witch brings a spirit back before it crosses the Styx. In a Christian context, the ghost's unwillingness to cross could be symbolic in that the ghost can't enter heaven so it cannot cross the river.

line 16 missas cantari means to have mass said for the spirit but these words are probably used because monks preformed the mass in Gregorian chant, a type of singing popular in medieval European abbeys that only uses voice.
adiutus est
the absolution and masses were believed to have helped the spirit pass on to heaven from purgatory, a place conceived of in the Medieval period where spirits wait and repent before they reach heaven.

    Story I is interesting in comparison to the other Byland Abbey ghost stories for the key features it contains.  Like the other ghost stories, it is set in Yorkshire, England near the Abbey of Rievaulx.  In addition, like the majority of other ghost stories, it is about a ghost who is asking for help in absolution, so he can leave this world and pass on into heaven.  The first feature that sets Story I apart from the other Byland Abbey ghost stories is the exclusion of the living man’s name. In most of the other ghost stories the spirit’s name is left out in order not to offend the living relative but the advocate of the ghost is noted, or part of the name is noted.  However, in story 1, he uses the general term for mankind, hominem, to describe the man who is carrying the beans along the road.  This shows a disinterest in the subject by the Byland monk because of his use of a general term.  It may also indicate that the story was passed down from generation to generation and, over time, the name of the individual was lost.  The monk would have been aware of the difficulty of locating the name of the individual and the role of the individual to the story was not crucial to the meaning or significance of the story.    

    Another point of interest in the story is the fact that the man along the road is carrying beans.  Beans were perceived by early Pythagoreans to hold the souls of the lost dead.  This is an interesting element of symbolism because the man could be perceived as a carrier of lost souls as the story depicts him as the intermediary between a troubled soul and his path to heaven.   Schmitt, in his book Ghosts in the Middle Ages, discusses the origin of All Saints Day in terms of contractual ties with the dead and helping them cross over into heaven (66-8). In Western Europe, beans were traditionally eaten on this day (Simoons 252).

    Curious instances of shape-shifting occur in stories I, II and VIII.  Generally the ghost takes on shifting forms until the he is acknowledged by a passerby.  In story I, the forms the ghost takes on appear to be associated with the work the ghost may have performed while living. The ghost appearing in the form of hay and horse could symbolize that the he was a stable hand at the Abbey when he was alive.

    In story I, the ghost interacts with the hominem by helping him carry the beans.  The ghost carries the beans as far as the river, which he then refuses to cross.  Here the river symbolizes purity. The ghost, stuck in purgatory, is not yet pure and therefore cannot cross. Subsequently the hominem arranges for the ghost's absolution and thus his release from purgatory. 

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