Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Vampire of Melrose Abbey

And now, Dear Readers, let me tell you a chilling story from medieval Scotland.  A good vampire tale is just what the season calls for, and believe it or not, there is a strange tale of vampires from Scotland, at an abbey, no less, dating back to the days long before Robert Bruce, in the second half of the 12th century.

There could hardly be a more peculiar twist to such a story than that it concerns an abbey and a priest, the Hundeprest, or Dog Priest, as he came to be known, who must have lived in the days when Melrose Abbey was very new.

Melrose Abbey, vampire, true vampire stories, Scotland, medieval Scotland, Halloween storiesThis priest was chaplain to a nearby lady, but beyond that, was given to many sins and vices.  He was known as the Hundeprest because of his love of hunting, with a pack of howling dogs following his horse.
John Lang, in Stories of the Border Marches, says, "Other things he also loved that made not for sanctity, and when, at last, he died, his death was no more holy that his selfish, sensual life had been.”

After his death, he rose from his grave, stalking the town streets looking for blood, according to some accounts, and visiting, by night, the former lady to whom he was chaplain, according to others.  Some accounts tell of him shrikeing and moaning at the woman.  Whether it was the terrified lady or the townsfolk, the monks of the relatively new Melrose Abbey were asked to help. 

The monks prayed and fasted, but they also took more direct action against the undead.  Four of them, an elder monk , a fellow monk, and two novices, sat up all night by his grave one chilly night with an axe.  I think it's a safe bet in the 1200's , having no silver screen, that they anticipated something more frightening than a sparkling apparition.

When nothing happened, however, three of the monks went back inside, leaving guard duty to one man.  Barely had they left, when the dead priest rose from his grave.  The lone monk hit him with the axe, and the corpse descended back into his grave.  It appeared to swallow him, and then returned to normal, as if nothing had ever disturbed it. 

The three who had left hurried back out and, together, they opened the grave.  There, they found the corpse with an axe wound to the head and 'a great quantity of gore.'  Other sources are rather graphic in describing the grave as swimming in blood.

The body was cremated, and its ashes spread on the wind over the Lammermuir Hills to the north.

Could such a story be true?  William of Newburgh (1136-1198), the English historian, recounts it in his masterpiece, The History of English Affairs.  "William of Newburgh is largely regarded as careful in his writings and sources.  Newburgh was profoundly steadfast, and more than a little pompous, in his determination to record historically accurate events," say Barb Karg, et al in their article about him.  

Author John Gillingham, in The English in the Twelfth Century: Imperialism, National Identity and Political Values, says of him, "by reputation the most thoughtful and judicious of twelfth-century English historians."  He regarded his sources on this and several other vampire stories from Scotland as legitimate enough to include in his History, not so long after the events.

And what of today?  Even now, there are stories of a monk who haunts Melrose, along with claims that Michael Scott, supposedly a wizard who discovered the secret of flying, and an eerie 'presence' that 'slides along the ground' also haunt it. 

I leave it to you, Dear Reader, this Halloween, to decide if you'd like to visit Melrose Abbey at night and see for yourself!

Happy Halloween!

This is not the only vampire story from Scotland.  For more, see the Paranormal Database and The Chronicles of William Newburgh.

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If you liked this article, you might also like
Thomas the Rhymer and the Fairy Queen, Selkies
or other posts under the SCOTTISH LEGENDS label