Exploring the Medieval Afterlife with Eleanor Janega
Ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night! Dr Eleanor Janega delves into the medieval phantasmic to find out what their restless dead can tell us about the worries of the living. Because if we want to understand what makes another society tick, it helps to take a look at what makes them scared.
In this show, Eleanor visits the ruins of Byland Abbey to explore some of the most terrifying stories to survive the medieval period. The 12 ghostly tales written by a monk on the blank back pages of a religious manuscript, share traits with our own modern ghost stories but we learn that medieval perceptions of ghosts may be very different to our own.
Then at one of the most important religious sites in medieval England, Canterbury Cathedral, Eleanor investigates how the church uses ghost stories for political gain and reinforcing religious values. Archivist Cressida Williams shows us some of the memento mori tropes implemented by the church, like Cadaver tombs and the ‘Three Living and Three Dead’ Illustrations, which acted as warnings against sin and reminders of the death that awaits us all.
Eleanor comes face to face with the dead at the University of Bradford, which houses one of the UK's largest collection of human skeletal remains, Dr Jo Buckberry, explains why adhering to proper burial practices were crucial for making it into the afterlife and describes some of the gruesome ways they prevented the revenant dead from rising from the grave to haunt their communities.
And to complete her journey, Eleanor braves Chillingham Castle, once used as a border stronghold staving off invasion from Scotland, it’s now home to a gathering of ghosts. First recorded over a hundred years ago by Lady Leonora Tankerville in the “golden age of horror” we discover the Victorian and Edwardian obsession with the supernatural… something that haunts us still….