British Museum MS. Royal 15 A. xx. fo. 142 b

V. Item est mirabile dictu quod scribo. Dicitur quod quedam mulier cepit quendam spiritum et portauit in domum quandam super dorsum suum in presencia hominum quorum vnus retulit quod vidit manus mulieris demergentes in carne spiritus profunde, quasi caro eiusdem spiritus esset putrida et non solida sed fantastica.

  • Synopsis
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Story V is the shortest of the Byland Abbey stories, involving a ghost-catching woman and an eye-witness description of the spectral form. (LR)

5. Likewise, what I write is marvelous to say. It is said that a certain woman seized a certain ghost and carried it into a certain house over her back in the presence of men, one of whom reports that he saw the hands of the woman plunging deeply into the flesh of the spirit, as if the flesh were rotten and not solid but imaginary.

This story is so brief (a mere two sentences), that no names or places are mentioned. The only people mentioned (living people, that is) are “quedam mulier” (a certain woman) and “hominum” (men).  A Scandinavian legend suggests that the woman caught the ghost and brought it inside because of a dare or bet. However, the results of her actions were clearly unanticipated. In this legend, a fearless servant girl accepts a dare to retrieve an object (usually bones) from a haunted churchyard. Nevertheless, the deceased becomes upset and the girl  must carry the skeleton to a priest or someone whom it had sinned against in its life and ask for absolution. (Simpson, 397)

line 1 Item connects this story with its preceding story.

line 2 cepit Perhaps, as the Scandinavian legend goes, when this woman/girl entered the haunted graveyard the skeleton, or in this situation a ghost, jumped onto her back. The use of carne spiritus also implies that the ghost was, at least partially, tangible, as it had flesh (Simpson, 397). "This is most curious. Why did the woman catch the ghost and bring it indoors ?" (MRJ)

lines 4-5 carne spiritus The juxtaposition between these two opposite words is worth mentioning.

      Story V is the shortest of the Byland Abbey stories and, as Schmitt points out, has no narrative development. Perhaps this lack of character and narrative development is due to the fact that the monk at Byland Abbey is simply reporting the story that he has learned. However, the fact that he does not elaborate on it also emphasizes its peculiarity: a woman carries a ghost on her back and plunges her hands into it. Simpson suggests that such a strange occurrence is based off of a Scandinavian legend that told of a girl who was dared to go into a graveyard at midnight to obtain a certain object. However, she clearly did not expect to encounter a ghost, or more likely, a skeleton. In this Scandinavian story, the skeleton or ghost demands the girl take it to a priest to absolve it of its sins. Ironically, Byland’s version of this story does not contain this asking for absolution despite the fact that it would fit quite well with the rest of the Byland stories. Simpson suggests further that perhaps the monk simply jotted down an interesting part of this tale and did not mean for it to be a complete story yet. (Simpson, 27) Moreover, although this spirit does have a body, as do many of those in the Byland stories; Hence why it is possible for her to plunge her hands into its flesh. In fact,  these ghosts “are not ghosts in the usual sense of the word but ‘walking dead,’ corpses that have literally emerged from their graves. (Simpson, 390). What makes this story even more unique, however, is that, unlike many of the other Byland stories, the spirit does not want to be absolved of any sins.

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