20 December 2018
Here be Demons
(Nolite Violare – Hic sunt diaboli)
By Tim Marshall
The old church stood on a small hill, surrounded by a graveyard which was overgrown and almost unrecognisable as such. The hill was just outside the village and within easy walking distance of the pub: “The Beaumont Arms”.
Geoffrey Beaumont and his fiancée, Emma, and their friends Nicholas and Pamela were staying at the pub for a week or two. It was September. There was a touch of cold in the wind now, which warned that Autumn was not far away. The four spent their time walking, visiting local places of interest and playing the odd game of golf. Geoff and Emma had driven down in the Porsche. It was a company car. Geoff worked as a dealer on the foreign exchange markets in the City of London.
It was Emma who suggested exploring the old church at the top of the hill. The path was easy to follow – it led straight up from the road, through the graveyard, to the church door. The church had a square stone tower and looked small and rather squat. It seemed very old.
They opened the door and went inside. It was cold, almost chilly, inside and there was the familiar smell of wood, damp, polish and flowers which all churches seem to possess.
The four of them moved about almost at random, now looking at this, now reading that. Emma stopped in front of an old inscription set into the wall. It was in Latin: “Nolite violare. Hic sunt diaboli”. It seemed to be true. Above the inscription was a beautiful stained glass window. It represented the risen Christ defeating and consigning to the pit of hell for eternal damnation, a number of screaming, scrabbling demonic figures. The work was very old, but very skilful. As in most stained glass, there were blues, greens, reds and yellows – a riot of colour which contrasted with the black of night of the pit of hell which was portrayed at the foot of the figure of Christ.
The craftsman had given Christ a stern, menacing, threatening look. Emma shuddered as she looked at it.
“Come over here and look at this” she called in a loud whisper (somehow she could never shout or speak loudly in church).
“Whew” said Nicholas, “So much for the loving, all forgiving Christ. Just look at that face! I wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night in Jerusalem”.
“Shush! Don’t be irreverent, darling,” warned Pamela. “We’re in church don’t forget.”
Geoff was bored. “Come on you lot, who wants to see an old church with inscriptions we don’t understand? They’re all the same inside, these churches – you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all”.
Emma stood, fascinated by the glass.
“It’s marvellous the way the craftsman has brought real character and fear into the faces of the demons. I don’t envy their fate: the burning fiery furnace for ever. No chance of a drink there. I wonder what the inscription means: ‘Nolite violare. Hic sunt diaboli?. ‘Hic sunt diaboli means ‘here are devils’, but my Latin is rusty. I don’t know what ‘Nolite violare’ means.”
Geoff was becoming impatient.
“Come on, you lot, stop wasting time.”
He went up to Emma and put his hand round the back of her neck and squeezed hard.
“Ow! Stop it Geoff, that hurts.”
“When I said ‘come on,’ girl, I meant it.”
Emma turned and looked at him.
“There are times Geoff, when you are not only insensitive but stupid”.
He grinned. “Sorry. Can I make it up?”
Before she could answer, he put his arms round her and gave a deep long lasting kiss. She struggled and at last broke free. Geoff grinned again.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to have it off in church. Right on the altar. Marvellously erotic.”
Emma shivered. “Don’t say things like that Geoff. It’s not funny and it’s in very bad taste; it’s …it’s worse than blasphemy.”
He laughed. “Dear, dear. All religious now are we? Since when?”
“Don’t tease me, Geoff, please. I just feel uncomfortable about making jokes, obscene jokes, in church. I just think it shouldn’t be done.”
“OK” he said. “Anyway, it’s time for lunch and a pint or two at my pub”.
They wandered round for a few minutes more and then left and headed back to the pub for lunch. They had chosen the “Beaumont Arms” because of its name. Geoff had wanted to stay there and investigate its origins. He said he hoped to discover that it really belonged to him and so be entitled to free beer for life.
“But I’m not fussed over much. All this overrated real ale – give me a bottle of export lager any day. It’s cold, with a bite to it. I would renovate this old dump anyway, though. Liven it up a bit with some music, something for the kids, maybe a disco alongside. But I suppose it wouldn’t be worth it. This place is miles from anywhere – just the local trade. What a dull life. I don’t think I could stick more than a week here. Look at that old fossil.”
The door had opened and an old man came in. He was stooped and moved slowly, but his eyes were still bright like a bird’s; his face red and weather beaten.
The landlord pulled a pint and handed it over: “There you are, Ted.”
“You see?” said Geoff. “The landlord had his pint ready for him – probably comes in every day at the same time. How boring and predictable. I want some fun.”
He went to the bar to order another round.
“Hello Ted”. He hailed the old man with false heartiness.
“If it’s 40 miles from here to the next town and mangel wurzles are 50p a pound, how old am I?”
The old man looked up in amazement at being spoken to in such a fashion.
“Forty-two” he answered after deep thought.
Geoff was taken aback at such a ready response.
“How do you work that out?”
“Well, our village idiot is 21 and you’re twice as stupid as he is,” answered the ancient.
Geoff gaped and then laughed shortly.
“You old bastard, “ he muttered, not quite under his breath, and returned to the others.
“God, what a crew! I’d love to do something to liven this place up – shake the morons out of their rut.”
“Don’t be so patronising Geoff. Anyway, they may know what that inscription in the church means and where it comes from. I find it rather creepy: diabolical demons. I thought a church should be full of saints, not devils.
It’s my round next. I’ll ask the landlord or one of the old regulars.”
Emma seemed quite excited.
“Well,” said Geoff, “Latin may be a dead language but it’s certainly made you come alive. You can’t be interested in all that stuff – inscriptions on church walls – I mean it’s archaic. Who gives a toss what’s written where or by whom? It’s just a poor excuse to raise money to buy a new organ for the vicar.”
Nicholas groaned. “That’s not even funny. It’s as old as that inscription you two are going on about.”
They chatted on, discussed plans for the next day. Emma went up to buy the next round.
“We were in the church today”, she said to the landlord, “and saw an old glass window with an inscription in Latin. It seemed to be saying something about devils but we don’t know enough Latin. Do you know what it means?”
“There are a lot of old stories about the church”, replied the landlord. “Can’t say I believe them. They always grow in the telling. But some of them go back a long way. I’m not superstitious, but they do say you must be careful in the church – you mustn’t do anything to annoy it, and the inscription is the reason.”
“Oh, how exciting! Please tell me more.”
“Well, if you’re really interested why not pop along and see the vicar. He’s a young chap, only been here a few years, but he’s a real scholar and knows all about the history of the place. Go and see him, I should. The vicarage is the house at the bottom of the church hill. He’s usually in at about 4 o’clock. Catch him then and he might offer you tea as well.”
“Thank you. We’ll do that.”
Emma returned to the others and told them what the landlord had said.
So, I suggest we go for a brisk walk this afternoon and then visit the vicar at 4.”
“Visit the vicar?” exclaimed Nicholas. “Sounds like ‘pass the parcel’ or ‘postman’s knock.’”
“Oh, come on. Is it agreed?”
Having made no other plans, and feeling slightly sleepy after the pub lunch, the others acquiesced without demur.
The vicarage was a pleasant, old building, probably Victorian and reasonably large. They rang the bell and a young, bespectacled, earnest-looking man opened the door. The dog collar was there, slippers and old sweater. He grinned at them all in a rather surprised manner.
“Hello” he said genially, casting a quick look over the group. “Have you come to the wrong house?”
“No” stated Emma firmly. “You’re the vicar aren’t you?”
“Well, we want to talk to you about the church and the window and the inscription.” Then, realising that perhaps this may have sounded rather abrupt: “If we can, please, if you’re not too busy.”
The young man hesitated as if he suspected that the deputation might not be serious, just wanting to use some time by having fun at his expense. But then he shrugged mentally; maybe, maybe not – but it was his job to receive people and welcome them, whatever their intentions.
“No, not at all, please – do come in”
They all trooped in, Emma and Pamela first, the other two behind, trying to stifle giggles. The vicar led them all into a large reception room which had a wide fireplace and bay windows looking over a lawn, with trees and flower borders. The afternoon sun poured in.
He motioned them to sit down and they did so. Geoff lounged back and looked bored. Nicholas looked a little embarrassed. Emma and Pamela looked sheepish and a little guilty.
“Sorry to disturb you, but we were looking at the church this morning and saw a stained glass window which was remarkable; and then there was an inscription below, in Latin, which we couldn’t read. The landlord of the pub hinted at strange, old stories attached to the church and recommended us to see you. He said you would be able to explain – so, here we are!”
The young man laughed. “Well, how much do you want to know?
The first part is easy. The inscription reads ‘Nolite violare. Hic Sunt Diaboli’. That means: “do not ravage (or destroy). Demons (or devils) are here”.
The second part of the story takes a little longer to explain. If you would like to hear it, I would be happy to tell you, in exchange for the purchase of four books of raffle tickets – the draw to take place at the church fete tomorrow. Five tickets in a book, each ticket £5. £20 in all.”
Geoff took his wallet out of his pocket and handed over a £20 note. “Here you are Vic. 20 quid.”
“Thank you very much. My name by the way is Andrew Partington. Right, the rest of the story.”
He sat down in an old leather armchair, crossed his legs, put his fingers together and stared at the ceiling. Despite his youth, Emma suddenly felt like a schoolgirl, or an undergraduate before a tutor.
“The church is Anglo-Saxon and is one of the few in this part of the world which remains. The others were altered and made to fit in with the Norman style of architecture after the conquest.
The aesthetic reason was that the Normans wished to build their own churches in their own style. Rich and mighty Normans, over the years, wished to save their souls. A way to do this, almost guaranteed to succeed, was to endow, found or otherwise be a patron of a church.
This part of the world came under the power and control of an important Norman – Nigel Beaumont, who gave his name, by the way, to the local pub.”
“We know”, interjected Pamela, “Geoffrey’s surname is Beaumont so we thought he might be related to whoever it was the pub was named after.”
The vicar looked down and raised his eyebrows.
“Beaumont is a Norman name, so I suppose it is almost a certainty that you are related, however distantly, to Nigel Beaumont. Still, I hope you won’t adopt the habits of your ancestor.”
“Why, what did he do?” asked Geoff.
“Well, he decided to enjoy his lands and his power to the full. He acquired as much extra land as he could, by fair means or foul, to add to the grant he had received from the Conqueror. Then, he set about exploiting his lands as hard as he could; it was a rich country and he determined to make it richer for his own benefit.
As a result, as you may imagine, the locals were not favourably disposed towards him – in fact, they hated him. However, there was one aspect of their old life that they decided he must not change. That was their church. Nigel Beaumont might impoverish the land, but he was not going to be allowed to destroy their own old church.
I must admit that I am colouring the story and using my imagination a little – but the gist of it can be found in the Monastic Chronicles of the time, which were written not far from here.
Where was I?
Oh, yes, well the local Anglo-Saxon priest wanted to ensure that his church would not go the way of others, so he put a curse on it, or rather, a curse on anyone who attempted to destroy it. The curse is reflected in that inscription: it is a command not to lay waste or destroy the church and warns that devils and demons are present.”
“How fascinating – does the curse work?” asked Emma.
“There are old stories of mysterious goings on from time to time, and legends of people disappearing, but it is impossible to know whether there is any truth in them or discover the origin of them. Many old villages or communities have folk tales of ghosts, ghouls or other funny happenings, so such stories are not uncommon. Strangely enough, Nigel Beaumont himself disappeared, apparently in unexplained circumstances. It seems he went to the church with some of his retainers, presumably to destroy it or sack it. The chronicles are vague, but they describe the retainers as running away, suddenly, in fear. Nigel Beaumont was never seen again.”
“How did you find out about the curse and the chronicles?” asked Geoff.
“I was always interested in medieval history and looked up the local chronicles as soon as I arrived in the village. I wanted to know the history of my church and of the area. The chronicles are in Latin and so took some time to translate, but I managed it in the end.”
“Latin?” Geoff sounded contemptuous: “Latin is a language as dead as dead can be, it killed the ancient Romans and now it’s killing me”.
“Stop being childish Geoff.” Emma looked embarrassed.
The young vicar stood up. “Would you like some tea?”
“Yes, please. Can I help you make it?” asked Emma.
“Of course. Come on, I’ll show you where the kitchen is”
The two went out together.
“I must apologise for Geoffrey. He has a hard, stressful job which requires aggression and that aggression sometimes spills over into his social life.”
“Yes, well, I rather thought he was a high earner. His appearance and clothes seemed to show that. I’m not an expert, of course, as I don’t move in those circles, but I thought he could probably afford £20 to support my restoration fund”. He looked at her and grinned mischievously. She looked at his worn corduroy trousers and old sweater with leather patches at the elbows and suddenly grinned back.
She carried the tray in and automatically sat down to pour out.
Pamela brought up the original subject again.
“Mr. Partington, do you believe in the curse, or the mysterious stories or do you think it’s all rubbish?”
“That’s a difficult one to answer. I don’t believe in the curse. I don’t believe in the stories – but I have to recognise the fact that the stories exist and that therefore at some time in the past, something happened or an incident or incidents took place which have been exaggerated over the years until they have reached their present form in the stories we know today. I think that’s all I can say and the original happening need not have been a supernatural event.”
He smiled. “I’ve disappointed you, haven’t I?”
The phone rang.
“Andrew Partington. Yes, speaking. I see, Doctor, thank you for calling. I’ll be over right away. Good bye.”
He turned to them. “I’m afraid I must go now. One of my parishioners is dying – not long to go now, I’m afraid, and I must go round. He wants to see me.”
Emma jumped up. “Off you go then. We’ll clear up and do the washing up. We’ll certainly come to the fete tomorrow.”
She organised everyone briskly and saw the young Vicar out of the door and watched him drive away in his old Morris and then proceeded to tidy up.
“What an idiot that man is” remarked Geoff. “Here we are, complete strangers. We could steal anything, smash the place up, wreck it. It’s stupid to trust anyone these days.”
“I disagree,” said Pamela. “I think he’s rather sweet- perhaps the absent minded scholar, but no moron. What do you think, Emma?”
For some reason she couldn’t really explain, Emma suddenly blushed and looked confused. She didn’t answer.
“Come on – Nick and Geoff- you do the drying up and then we’re finished.”
They left soon after, shutting, but not locking the front door as there was no key.
It was at Emma’s insistence that they all went to the fete the next day. It was a traditional church fete, with the usual stalls, tea tents and locals dressed for the occasion; even Andrew Partington looked neater than he had done the day before. He greeted them in friendly fashion. He was also slightly apologetic.
“I’m afraid this kind of do is probably a bit boring for you. It is good of you to turn up at all.”
“Not at all” replied Emma. “The advantage in getting away from London is that you an enjoy things you never find there – like country fetes.”
They sauntered slowly round and bought some tickets at the tombola. Geoff’s batch won two or three prizes, but he refused to take them.
“It’s for charity”, he explained to the lady behind the stall. “Someone else can win them again later.”
As they walked away, Emma put her arm through his.
“That was nice of you Geoff. Are you being converted to the good country life?”
“Me? No way – it’s simply that I wouldn’t have any of that rubbish as a gift.”
Emma withdrew her arm.
“Is there a loo somewhere?” she asked, and walked off quickly. The others looked at each other.
“What’s the matter with her?” asked Nicholas.
Emma wanted to avoid the others for a bit, so she ambled round the stalls on her own. Soon she met Andrew Partington, doing his rounds.
“Hello, where are the others?” he asked.
“Oh, around somewhere I suppose” Emma answered. “Can I ask you something?”
“Why did you go out yesterday and simply leave us? I mean, we could have done anything – vandalised the place, wrecked it, robbed it. We were complete strangers to you.”
“Well, point one: I have nothing worth stealing, no television, except an old black and white one, no CD or DVD player and no valuables. Point two: I thought you were what you appeared to be – four youngish people on holiday, possibly a bit bored and even prepared to call on the local vicar for a bit of fun.”
He looked at Emma with a slight grin and she looked uncomfortable.
“So, I thought it unlikely that four people who had taken the initiative to ring my doorbell and whom I could identify would be stupid enough to burgle the place. In addition, burglars or potential burglars don’t contribute £20 to the church funds, when asked. Point three: I had to leave immediately as I was needed urgently by a parishioner who was dying. Just imagine what I would have felt like if I had stayed to see you out and then arrived to find old Mr. Burley had died before I got there. It’s difficult to explain to a dead man why you’re late.”
Emma walked beside him for a minute in silence.
“It sounds as though you have a difficult job.”
“I know I’ll sound patronising, but it’s not a job as such, it’s a calling. There are no set times, you may be called out at midnight and again at 3.00 am. I’m lucky that a country parish is not very well populated, but, on the other had, people are spread out more, so you have more distance to cover.”
“I suppose it can’t be easy, trying to comfort someone who is dying. I’ve never really thought about it before. I’ve never seen a dead person, so I don’t know how I would react.”
“Each person and each death is different,” explained Partington quietly.
“You can’t memorise stock phrases or lines and just come out with them parrot fashion. I just say and do whatever seems best or right in the circumstances. Sometimes you don’t need to say anything at all, just being there, holding someone’s hand makes all the difference. There are some ways of earning a living which are more stressful than working in the City of London. Anyway.” He laughed suddenly. “This is terribly gloomy stuff on such a lovely day – you come to a fete to enjoy yourself, you know.”
“Yes, I must join the others. Look, we’re here a week so I’ll see you in church on Sunday.”
Emma hurried away, leaving Partington to gaze after her, before directing his attention once again to his parishioners and the fete.
Emma was more thoughtful than usual over the next few days. She seemed to distance herself a little from the others and especially from Geoff. He detected a certain cooling in her attitude to him and it gradually began to annoy him, especially as he couldn’t understand the reason for it. If asked, Emma would probably have denied any change of attitude and, even if she accepted that there had been a change, she herself would not have been able to identify the cause. It was just that she was beginning to feel uneasy, as though something was not quite right with her relationship and feelings for Geoff.
The week after the church fete passed with disharmony growing slowly but steadily. A row blew up on Sunday – Emma wanted to go to church. Geoff was astounded.
“What? You must be joking! You haven’t been to church for years. Why do you want to go now?”
“I can’t explain it. It just seems right somehow – in this village, with its old church…”
“And nice young vicar” interrupted Pamela.
Emma thought for a moment.
“Yes,” she said at last, honestly. “Perhaps that is the reason after all.”
“Good” said Geoff, “Now we know. I wondered why you have been in a funny mood all week. You fancy the vicar. If it wasn’t so ridiculous, I’d fall about laughing. Well, if you’re going to church to fancy the vicar, I’m coming too.”
They all went in the end. Geoff seemed to treat the expedition as a novel experience – rather like visiting the bazaar when on holiday in the East. When on holiday in the country – go to church and try to appreciate the local culture.
The service was the simple Matins, the version from the Book of Common Prayer. Partington preached a simple, direct and short sermon.
The congregation filed out and the four remained behind.
“Come on Emma” called Geoff.
Emma stayed where she was. “I’ll join you outside” she said. “I want to have a word with Andrew first.”
“I’m getting fed up with this. It’s ‘Andrew’ now is it?”
He grabbed her by the neck and as he had done during their first visit to the church.
“Let go, Geoff. That’s sore,” cried Emma.
He squeezed the back of her neck harder, seized her arm and started dragging her down the church. Emma twisted and struggled furiously.
At that moment, Andrew Partington came out of the vestry and saw the undignified maul.
“Stop that! How dare you behave like that in church – before the sight of God?”
He was bristling with anger and tore Geoff’s grip from Emma and flung him back down the aisle.
Geoff stumbled on the uneven stone floor and fell heavily. He was not particularly hurt, but his pride and dignity were. He rose slowly to his feet and it was clear that he had completely lost his temper.
“So much for the man of God, the man of Peace. What a hypocrite! Well, you can stuff your religion and stuff your God.”
He picked up a prayer book, turned and flung it at the altar. He picked up another book and started to rip out the pages. Then he ran to the lectern – a heavy brass stand – and tore a page out of the Bible. He tore more pages viciously. The others stood frozen with shock, motionless, unable to move. Geoffrey Beaumont turned to them with a laugh.
“There, that’ll teach you.”
It was then that it happened. Imperceptibly, while Geoff had been throwing books and tearing the Bible, the church had been growing darker and darker. At the same time, in a corner by the altar, a bundle of lights began to form. It seemed like a small fire of flickering colours which grew larger and wider.
“What’s happening?” Pamela shouted.
Geoff wheeled round. The bundle of lights had grown into a big catharine wheel of spinning colours – a kaleidoscope of blues, reds, yellows and greens. They seemed to flash and spark, disappear and reappear in a fast rolling combination of light and colour. The apparition rolled forward quickly, smoothly, effortlessly, inexorably until, with a diameter of about seven feet it reached Geoff. His face was white with terror and it seemed that it was only with great difficulty that he forced himself, with feet as heavy as lead, to turn away and start to run. But he was too slow, too late. The flashing, kaleidoscopic catharine wheel of colour had reached him and enveloped him. The others stood, horrorstruck, as Geoff disappeared in the wild confused circle of light and colour. Bits of his body, an arm or leg, or head could be seen in flashes – as though he was caught in a strobe light. The whole mass suddenly left the stone floor of the church and moved quickly, still in its colourful whirling, up to the stained glass window above the Latin inscription.
There came a long, drawn out, high pitched scream of pain and mortal fear and, intermingled, a sound as though a fingernail was being dragged across a sheet of glass: thin, scratching, a sound to set teeth on edge, but magnified a hundred times.
Then the confused mass of colour and light diminished and shrank and faded until a tiny pinpoint remained which itself evaporated. Apart from Emma, Nicholas, Pamela and Partington, the church was empty. Geoff Beaumont had gone.
Emma suddenly screamed: “No, it isn’t true – it can’t be. It’s not real. Look at the window.”
She pointed hysterically to the stained glass. The figure of Christ, brooding, stern and menacing stared down as before. The demons and devils were there as before – but not quite. There was a change. Anguished, hideous, terrified and distorted, but still recognisable, the face of one of the demons entering the black pit of hell, was the face of Geoffrey Beaumont.
He had dared to violate the church and the demons were there indeed.