Monday, August 31, 2009

The sea above the Earth

The historical novelist Vaughan Wilkins must have had a huge following in the 1950s. At one time every secondhand bookshop in the country had a copy of the World Books edition of Fanfare for a Witch.

For that reason, almost as a joke in fact, I started collecting his other books. Now I even have a couple of signed first editions.

One of those other books by Wilkins is his anthology of odd historical snippets Endless Prelude. It contains the following from 1212 by Gervase of Tilbury:

In our own time there befell a marvellous but well-known event to prove how the upper sea lieth above us.

One a certain holy-day after High Mass, the folk were thronging forth from the parish church, on a morning so misty that it made a sort of twilight. On a stone tomb within the churchyard they found an anchor fixed, with its cable stretched tight and hanging down from the air.

While they were disputing among themselves of this matter, they saw at length the rope move as though men were labouring to weigh anchor. When, therefore, for all this straining at the rope, the anchor yet clung to the tomb, they heard through the foggy air as though it had been the cries of sailors labouring with all their might to raise an anchor from the deep.

Soon, when they found their labour to be in vain, they sent down one of their fellows, who, as skilfully as any shipman of our own, appeared hanging to the rope and descending with alternate interchange of hands.

When he had torn the anchor from the tomb, he was, however, caught by the bystanders, in whose arms he gave up the ghost, suffocated by the breath of our gross air, as a shipwrecked mariner is suffocated in the sea.

His fellows above, after an hour's delay, cut the cable, let the anchor, and sailed away.

In memory of this event the iron bands of the doors of that church were forged from that anchor; which bands are there still for all men to see.

Unfortunately, this account does not say where the church was.

The edition of Gervase's work available on Google Books says that such airships were a common feature in Celtic legend. Put them down as a Medieval version of the phantom airships that flourished at the opening of the last century.

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