— VOTF06 Limping to Jerusalem

General Remarks

  • Our narrator is Simon de Senlis, a Norman nobleman.
  • The date given is “Post AD 1100”, thus only a few decades after the previous chapter. Significant decades, though, encompassing the Norman Conquest of England and the First Crusade.
    • The significance of this date is that it is the presumed date of construction starting on the Holy Sepulchre church. (Though the church may not have been finished and consecrated until 1108.)
  • The indicated map location is the Holy Sepulchre church.
  • Northampton is called North Hamtun in this chapter.

Section 1

  • “piles” – Hemorrhoids that have become inflamed.
  • “the street of Jews into … the horse-fayre” – The “street of Jews” is  the modern Gold Street. (Wikipedia claims that Gold Street was the center of a Jewish community in the 13th century.) This identificion is supported by the fact that modern Gold Street has a corner with Horsemarket Street and Mare Fair.
  • The presence of Jews in Northampton is documented as early as 1180.
  • “cunny” – Archaic slang for vagina.
  • “gets of Saxony” – “gets” is a somewhat disrespectful term for “children”. As a Norman nobleman, Simon doesn’t get on well with the oppressed Saxon populace.
  • “Before and to the left of me the crumbling church … named for Saint Peter” – This confirms that Simon is heading west along (modern) Mare Fair. “Crumbling” is apt, as the present St. Peter’s Church “was probably built between 1130 and 1140 by Simon de Senlis II,” strongly suggesting that the building in this chapter will collapse within the next few decades.
  • “dead twenty years or more” – This suggests the possibility that Alfgiva survived her ordeal at the end of the last chapter. Or alternatively, Simon doesn’t care enough to be accurate about the elapsed time.
  • “the Crusade” – This is not long after the end of the First Crusade in 1099. De Senlis was present for some of that Crusade, but had returned by 1098 (as he was present in a French battle in that year).
  • “This island” – The phrasing emphasizes that de Senlis, a Norman conquerer, does not consider himself a native.
  • “dugs” – Archaic word for “breasts”. Its usage here, referring to a male is very unusual.
  • “Chalk-monger Lane” – Now known simply as Chalk Lane.
  • “the cross-roads at the bridge” – This appears to refer to a bridge across a ditch between the lower and upper castle, not the bridge which featured so prominently in chapter one. This bridge can be seen in the Northampton Castle Virtual Tour.
  • “Maud’s chamber” – Maud, Countess of Huntingdon, married Simon de Senlis circa 1090.
  • “she is … twenty-nine years old” – Wikipedia thinks Maud was born circa 1074. If Wikipedia and Simon are both correct, that would date this chapter at 1103.
  • “if I were married … to her mother after all” – Before Simon married Maud, William the Conquerer tried to arrange a marriage between Simon and Judith (Maud’s mother and William’s niece), but Judith refused (as detailed later in this chapter).
  • “fifteen years since” – If Maud is twenty-nine now, then she must have been wed at age fourteen.
  • “my old man” – Slang for penis. The phrase also emphasizes the apparent disparity in their ages.
  • “up by the sheep-track” – Today, Sheep Street runs by the Holy Sepulchre.
  • “the pagan relic there before” – It is known that there is a tunnel underneath the Holy Sepulchre, though nothing more is known than its existence. I could find no references to any structure that was formerly on the site. (Xxx check X Marks the Spot in Jerusalem.)
  • “Some of its bricks are carved with monstrous and obscene antiquities” – This somewhat mysterious carved tympanum may be the last such remnant.
  • “a pillar inlaid with a barbarous, serpentine device … coiled down the column’s length” – No such pillar remains today.
  • Moloch” – A Canaanite deity, associated in the Bible with child sacrifice.
  • “the Temple raised by Solomon there in Jerusalem” – The Northampton Holy Sepulchre is based on the church of the same name in Jerusalem, which was allegedly built by Solomon.
    • The story of Solomon and the building of the temple is told multiple times in Jerusalem, from different viewpoints.
  • “a sense of that which is before-seen” – Another occurence of deja vu.
  • “Was I manhandled lame along these corridors before with thoughts of flogging” – Here Simon seems to briefly be experiencing Alfgiva from the previous chapter.
  • Pope Urban did as Peter, called the Hermit, had entreated” – The First Crusade was called by Pope Urban IIPeter the Hermit was a key figure in drumming up support for the Crusade, though modern historians no longer believe that he was the initial source of the idea.
  • “Walter, called the Penniless” – Walter Sans Avoir was a lieutenant of Peter the Hermit during the Crusade. (Wikipedia says he was also “mistakenly ” known as “Penniless”.)
  • “the immensity of that cruel Heathen sky” – Recalling Boy’s remark “sky is come more big” in chapter one.
  • “Robert, Duke of Normandy” – AKA Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror.
  • “setting Antioch to siege” – An important Turkish city, captured by Crusaders (after an eight month siege) in 1098.
  • “noble French” -As a Norman, de Senlis’ native language is French. Indeed,  he may, like many Normans, never have learned English.
  • “a line of monstrous script … in a giant and uneven hand” – This is reminiscent of an episode from C. S. Lewis’s Narnia nook, _The Silver Chair_.
  • “Murzak” – Unclear. There is a city of Murzuk in Libya, but that was nowhere near any of the Crusade routes, so seems unlikely.
  • “dined upon the flesh of slain Mohammedans” – Crusader cannibalism is documented during the siege of Ma’arra. How extensive it was, and whether any instances occurred outside this siege, are matters of considerable debate.
  • Emperor Julian of Rome” – Ruled from 361 to 363. Not long before his death, he ordered the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem (not, as de Senlis seems to suggest, the whole city). This project failed, possibly due to a combination of an earthquake and Jewish resistance, though a contemporary of Julian’s recounts that “fearful balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, till the workmen, after repeated scorchings, could approach no more“.
  • “only Waltheof’s Baronial hall stood here” – Waltheof was the last of the Anglo-Saxon Earls. After the Battle of Hastings, he submitted to William and was allowed to keep his title, lands, and life — for a time. Little is known about the structure that predated Northampton Castle (built by Simon de Senlis).
  • “North Hamtun” – This still somewhat archaic form 0f the name, occurring after the previous chapter used the name “Northampton”, may be another way of indicating that de Senlis is not a native English speaker.
  • “a human foot that sticks up from the sand” – Recalling the foot of Boy’s mother in chapter one.
  • “Dressed in the black robes of a nun and crippled” – The physical description recalls Alfgiva, from chapter five. She did not wear nun’s robes while she was crippled, but time is clearly elastic during experiences such as these.
  • “telling me the leg is hers” – Does she mean that she is Boy’s mother? Or that she (Alfgiva) has a better claim to the leg than de Senlis? In the cosmology of this book, it seems both might be true at once, and more besides.
  • “something underneath the desert floor … hidden and yet hideously strong that yanks upon the leg as if to draw it under from below” – This recalls Boy’s vision in chapter one: “bones is make a top for world in low of we, where is they shagfoal tread through dark, with little Urks set on they backs as scratch of boy-meat from off bones that hang in bove of they.”
  • “my prick to be yet chancred and inflamed” – Venereal diseases have existed since at least Antiquity, though precise documentation is usually lacking. Sexual activity in traveling Crusaders would certainly have risked infection.
  • “had great sport with it” – Note de Senlis’s use of the dehumanizing “it” here.
  • “knights in red and white” – Though unnamed, these are obviously Knights Templar (AKA The Order of Solomon’s Temple). Their uniform was white with a red cross. Their presence during the First Crusade is, strictly speaking, anachronistic, but Moore cleverly makes this part of the story, see below.
  • “a bright and quivering city hanging in the dawn” – Presumably a mirage.
  • “singing … French” – The Templars were founded by a French knight, so it is unsurprising that a group of proto-Templars would be predominantly French. Remember, too, that de Senlis, a Norman, is culturally French, not English.
  • “Godefroi” – A Norman name meaning “peace of God“. (This name was shared by Godfrey of Bouillon, prominent First Crusader, and first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.)
  • Saint-Omer” – Today, a city in northern France, though during de Senlis’s lifetime it was held by Flanders, and was never Norman territory.
  • “a fledgling order, not yet fully birthed” – The Knights Templar were (according to non-occult histories) founded in 1119 or 1120.
  • “spoke of his designs dismissively, as though they were already made accomplished” – This suggests the notion of eternalism, a major theme in Jerusalem.
  • “Hugues, of Payens”- Hugues of Payens was one of the founders of the Templars.
  • Croesus” – A king of legendary wealth.
  • “my son” – Simon II de Senlis, born c.1098, so still quite young.
  • grippe” – An old-fashioned term (from French) for influenza, or similar diseases.
  • “a Merlin stuffed with shavings” – A merlin is a kind of small hawk (the name is derived rom Anglo-Norman French), though the association with the famous wizard is inescapable, especially given that Moore capitalizes the word. Also, the appearance of a stuffed bird recalls those that appeared in Olun’s hut in chapter two.
  • “Tartar” – A native of Tartary (approximately central Asia).
  • “William the Bastard” – More respectfully known as William the Conqueror. The story of Judith’s refusal is historically based.
  • halten” – Archaic word for “limping”.
  • “hairless little Cat” – Slang for immature vagina.
  • chancel” – The area around the altar.
  • “windows” – Today, three Norman windows remain in the church. If any of our readers visit Northampton, we’d love to get pictures of them!
  • nave” – The main body of a church; normally rectangular,  but round here.
  • “witting” – Largely archaic form. “knowing”.
  • “not hospitable to Christian worship” – The use of the word “hospitable in this context is a sort of historical pun on Moore’s part. The main rivals to the Knights Templar were the Knights Hospitaller. When the Templars were accused of heresy and the order dissolved, it was the Hospitallers who inherited their property.
  • “old thing” – Slang for penis. De Senlis is certainly much older than Maud; though his birthdate is unknown, he was an adult warrior in 1066, over 34 years ago.
  • “her voice is rough and hateful, like a cockatrice” – A cockatrice is a sort of mythological serpent, that can kill with a look or (according to some) its breath. I have found no sources which discuss its voice.
  • “this is the night the villeins light the bel-fires that they drive their cattle between” – Presumably some variant of the Samhain (~November 1) bonfires. (Though the tradition of driving cattle between fires seems more commonly associated with Beltane, at the opposite end of the year.) See also chapter four’s reference to “bale-fires”.
  • “influence to beggar Alexander’s” – Alexander the Great was famed for having “conquered the world”. An exaggeration, but one that remains proverbial.
  • “Five years … if not five, then ten” – This scene takes place circa 1097. The Templars were officially founded in 1119 or 1120, and not recognized by the Pope until 1139. Saint-Omer’s timetable was clearly optimistic.
  • “sheep-track … brought from Wales” – Sheep farming in Wales was a major industry “by the 13th century”; this is a little earlier, but not much.Welsh sheep drovers were a fixture in Northampton at least as early as 1595, and probably much earlier.
  • “its eight great piers” – Pier, in this context means supporting pillar (of which there are eight in this church), as found under a bridge. While a church, for most men, might be seen as a bridge to salvation (see also the “fire escape” of chapter twelve), de Senlis’s troubled faith makes those waters troubled indeed, a “churning miasma”. It seems that he hoped for a bridge to temporal power, but that too is eluding him.
  • “the open crypt” – As mentioned above, there is believed to be a tunnel underneath Holy Sepulchre, but there is no current access to it.
  • “chancellery” – Possibly a mistake for “chancel”, see above. (“chancellery” is a word, but has nothing to do with church architecture.)
  • “Martyrium” – The word martyrium normally refers to a church built over the burial site of, or to house the relics of, a saint. From context, that’s clearly not what de Senlis means here; he seems rather to be indicating a feature within the main level of the church that in some way (possibly pictorially, or merely symbolically) represents Christ’s Passion.
  • “vaults, once closed” – Again referring to the now-inaccessible space beneath Holy Sepulchre.
  • “the cave wherein he lay, there at Gethsemane” – Gethsamane is the name of the garden where Jesus prayed the night before he was betrayed. Notably, it is not identified as the location of his tomb. At least, not in the publically-available gospels; the proto-Templars may have shared an occult one with de Senlis. On the other hand, given the two other errors about church architecture just above, maybe de Senlis is just very error-prone when it comes to church matters.
  • “like a compass needle fixed upon my North” – While this predates the first written mention of compasses in Europe, it does so by less than a century.
  • Baphomet” – An alleged heathen deity, supposedly worshipped by the Templars. Notably, in some accounts it is a severed head.
  • “I knew whose was the head” – See Closing Remarks, below.
  • “I shall not rise into the nave of rebirth” – De Senlis earlier pointed out to Maud that the round top of the nave would symbolize Christ’s resurrection. He has no faith in his own salvation, however, for reasons explicated in the Closing Remarks, below.

Closing Remarks

  • While never stated outright, the clear implication is that “Baphomet” is the severed head of Jesus Christ. The (provable) existence of such an object would contradict the Biblical account of Christ’s bodily resurrection, thus undermining one of the core dogmas of Christianity. In effect, Christianity would be proven to be a lie. In the face of such a threat, Catholic Popes might indeed be convinced to yield significant wealth and power to keep the holders of the secret from revealing it. (Presumably, the Templars have some sort of convincing documentary evidence that this head is Christ, though none is displayed to us.)
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