ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Religion and Philosophy»
  • Christianity, the Bible & Jesus


Updated on July 26, 2012

The Revenant Patriarch

Image Location:
Image Location:

Several Chapters of "Chronicles"

Wililam of Newbury chronicled several chapters' worth of accounts which mention corpses which are animated and leave their graves after burial - some proper Christian burials, too - and these revenants would cause great havoc and psychological stress on the living. (Book 5, Chapters 22, 23, 24).

"Revenant" probably comes from the French word, "revenir," which means: "to come back" and is associated with the idea of ghosts. Also, the Latin: venire means "to come," so re-venire means to come back, as well. There are other meanings for the word, such as: something occurring without interruption, but primarily, revenant is used to describe a ghost or undead corpse which returns to walk away from the grave...

Back to William of Newbury...

Also known as William Parvus and William of Newburgh, who lived during the approximate years of 1136–1198, and was a monk of Newburgh, Yorkshire. He was a chronicler whose most notable item is Historia rerum Anglicarum, written during the times of King Stephen.

Historia rerum Anglicarum, is basically a history of England from the years 1066 - 1198. If anyone wishes to practice translating Latin to English (or another language), an open source form of the document is available online at the link below:

Historia rerun Anglicarum (William Parvus/William of Newbury/Newburgh) online. (Latin)

In these volumes, William Parvus or William of Newbury wrote about The Anarchy apparent during the reign of King Stephen of England and although the writing is from the 12th Century time period, a good translation from Latin to English makes for very interesting, engaging reading material even today.

Especially where William Parvus mentions REVENANTS... burial customs and such.

Book Five, Chapter 22 heading: Of the prodigy of the dead man, who wandered about after burial

Book Five, Chapter 23 heading: Of a similar occurrence at Berwick

Book Five, Chapter 24 heading: Of certain prodigies

Historia rerum Anglicarum, Book Five, Chapter 22

Of the prodigy of the dead man, who wandered about after burial

(an excerpt below in bold)

William of Newburgh writes about a man who mistrusted his new wife so much that he decided to spy on her to see if she was, indeed, being unfaithful. Frankly, she was cheating on him and the husband caught her with another man in their newlywed home. Unfortunately, the husband had been hiding in the rafters of the place and when his wife and the other man were doing what comes naturally, the husband became upset and lost his grip, falling to the ground. He died and was buried soon after this unfortunate incident...

He didn't stay buried...

William of Newburgh documented what the people in the county of Buckingham witnessed regarding the husband who wouldn't stay buried:

"A certain man died, and, according to custom, by the honorable exertion of his wife arid kindred, was laid in the tomb on the eve of the Lord's Ascension. On the following night, however, having entered the bed where his wife was reposing, he not only terrified her on awaking, but nearly crushed her by the insupportable weight of his body. The next night, also, he afflicted the astonished woman in the same manner, who, frightened at the danger, as the struggle of the third night drew near, took care to remain awake herself, and surround herself with watchful companions. Still he came; but being repulsed by the shouts of the watchers, and seeing that he was prevented from doing mischief, he departed. Thus driven off from his wife, he harassed in a similar manner his own brothers, who were dwelling in the same street; but they, following the cautious example of the woman, passed the nights in wakefulness with their companions, ready to meet and repel the expected danger. He appeared, notwithstanding, as if with the hope of surprising them should they be overcome with drowsiness; but being repelled by the carefulness and valor of the watchers, he rioted among the animals, both indoors and outdoors, as their wildness and unwonted movements testified."



If You're Thinking This Is Funny... might be in the minority...

In the 12th Century, the events in the county of Buckingham were taken very seriously and drew the attention of the populace, nobility AND Church.

Inhabitants in the county of Buckingham sought council from the Church and thought it necessary to correspond with the venerable bishop of Lincoln - who was a resident of London during the time of the events. When this bishop consulted with his peers and other authorities, it was brought forth that the body would need to be exhumed, then burned. Well, the reverend bishop of Lincoln couldn't bring himself to issue any orders for such actions - based on the actions seeming too improper and indecent to perform. Instead, he issued correspondence forth to the archdeacon in Buckingham county, instructing that the body be examined only. Upon examination, the correspondence was laid at the dead man's breast and the grave was closed once more...

After all this (apparently due to the touch of correspondence from a source from the Church?), it is said that the dead man no longer wandered away from his grave and to his old house to harrass his widowed wife...

Vampires, Zombies, Ghouls, Take Your Pick

From the example above, it seems that the REVENANT was much like what we call a "ghoul" or more closely - a ZOMBIE - these days, however, William of Newbury writes more about this phenomena in Historia rerum Anglicarum, and in portions of his text what is described is a vampire-like being which refuses to stay in its grave...

In lore, it is said that the revenants are often those who have died by unfortunate accidents while still in relative youth - definitely those who died too young. The revenants often (it is said, in lore) return to their homes and their loved ones but don't seem to know that they're harrassing in what was once their own home... it became habit in some places of Europe, a few centuries back, for females in households of the recently deceased to set out some food - away from the home - hoping that this would keep the revenant/departed loved one from trying to enter the family home...

Mostly, this tactic was short-lived as it seemed to or was believed to continue to attract the revenants and ultimately, the solution to the problem of revenants was exhumation and burning...

Sometimes youthful widows were permitted a night or two of setting out food, just to help with their grieving process...but in the end - it was believed that the only way to deal with ones who return from the grave was to dig 'em up, light 'em on fire...


Somewhat Comical Film Clip (language warning)

In Lore

Surprisingly, not everything about the revenants is negative and horrific in folklore and legend. The idea of a deceased person returning to his (most accounts usually involve a male head of household) home after death MAY ACTUALLY promote the idea of "home," "protection" and the "family unit."

I know this sounds wacko, but in the minds of some, a revenant was an unfortunate person, to be pitied. Someone taken out of this world or living realm at the wrong time...and one who returned, seeking "home and family" after death. On occasion, tales have been told about the revenant returning, time and time again (as noted in the excerpt in bold above) to the appropriate family home - in search of food and to "be at home." Also (not mentioned in the excerpt above), some revenants would linger for very long time periods around a home and it is believed that they would "protect" the home from wild animals and intruders... (ie: "the man was so dedicated to his family while he lived that he cannot stay parted from his family in death."). In the least, if the revenant wasn't violent against intruders, the fact that he was 'non-living' and that animals sense things we cannot - was felt to be a positive point of having a revenant come the minds of some people, anyway.

It may be that we get some of our ideas about the recently deceased and certain beneficial ghosts "watching over us" from far back in history and from the concepts of these revenants...

Most descriptions/accounts of things said to be revenants are pitiful creatures who return to their homes after death, who are "barely aware" and who are "not themselves" anymore. "Animated corpses" but not much more. Often, they don't seem to have been deemed overly dangerous - more of a nuisance, actually - and their "returns" seemed a mainly psychological shock to the grieving family.

Often the "damage" revanants allegedly did by returing home after being in the grave was unintentional and due to the revenant's lack of awareness, co-ordination, etc. ie: a revenant may recognize a loved one, gain access to the family home and, in still being attracted to his family members, he might crush one of them in an embrace or - as in the excerpt above - the revenant lay atop his wife and was crushing her...

As in the account in bold above (the deceased bothered his brothers next after he was pushed away from his old family home), the revenant is believed to retain some awareness of his life and might go visit various family members and friends if turned away at one place. As well, it was possible to frighten a revenant - which might be "wishful thinking" of 12 century people - hoping that the deceased had retained a shred of humanity (human fear). In some tales, a revenant might be allowed to "hang around" and friends of the recently deceased would simply wait for the revenant to show up at their door one night, pass the "being" some food while turning the revenant out again. Once the revenant made his/its rounds of family and friends, it could THEN be shooed away. Shortly after, during daylight hours, a community would finally dig up the recently deceased's body, remove it from the grave, light it afire to finally stop the midnight wanderings and visits... 

Personally, I wonder if the authoress Mary Shelley had "the revenant" creature in mind while writing Frankenstein. In parts, when the creature is still learning to cope with living anew in a fully grown, adult-sized body, his strength is maximum but his co-ordination at a minimum and I think this must have been (still is) a terrifying concept for Victorian era minds. Certainly, because Shelley was literate and well schooled in her times, she would likely have chanced upon works by William Parvus or at least know a bit about him because of his status as an important historian and chronicler.

Revenants Morphing

Revenants truly aren't of one category. They're not a particular "thing," although we tend, as a general community of story listeners, to want to classify and label a persona, character in a tale, etc.

Revenants are extremely interesting because through these beings and through the tales that have already been told for ages and that we will continue to tell, we may be sorting through what we believe about life, death, loyalty, rituals, etc.

William Parvus' revenants are NOT the same revenants in lore of the later Victorian era, nor are William of Newbury's revenants the same as the ones we might hear about as 19th century or present-day revenants.

12th Century revenants seemed to be more of a "wanderer" and a pitiful being than later accounts of the revenant being... Parvus' revenant was a man wronged in life whose death was by an awful accident. (this can be interpreted a couple of ways).

Later, Victorian era revenants seemed much more aware and deliberate about who they visited after death (again, this might be our ideas developing via storytelilng over the years) and their returns from the grave were almost always said to have a purpose....vengeance.

The way Parvus' revenant can be viewed is of a pitiful being with limited awareness. This revenant was afraid when the townspeople rallied around his widow and they scared him off very quickly. It might be said that this revenant was closer to a harmless type of undead being...

However, if we look closely into the account that Parvus provides, it says that the revenant went to his wife's bed and almost crushed her... we can interpret this as a lack of co-ordination in a semi-aware being - OR (a different interpretation) a vengeful action against his wife - except we cannot determine to a sure degree, from Parvus' chronicle text, that the revenant is engaged in vengeful action rather than just "going home" and going to his rightful bed.

Likely, as this tale was re-told, and when it was told in Victorian times, the worldview would bring storytellers to view the 12 century revenant's behavior as an act of vengeance...

There seems to be a progression of thoughs about death going on with "revenant" tales. The nature of the revenant seems to continue morphing... in earlier times, the revenant is primarily an animated corpse who gets out of his grave then wanders about... a litte later in history, the revenant is an animated corpse who won't stay in the grave, wanders about - and, if turned away from his home, will visit other known relatives, friends' homes... by the Victorian era, revenants are mostly thought to defy death due to a personal vendetta - and, consequently, they return to known places and familiar people to exact revenge...

If we look at our modern, present day depictions of, story and films about zombies and vampires and associate these with revenants, our version of revenants is mostly violent, persistent, immortal...


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Ragingdemon 4 years ago

      Revenants aren't ghouls. They are half-vampires and half-zombies.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hey CMHypno, that last detail you dropped down about lepers being declared officially dead is something I never considered at all! This might be a really important detail to look into - WAY IMPORTANT... we might be looking at some records of "declared dead" people and mistaking them for "deceased from average or normal causes" and the actions of the families might be, in at least some cases (where they are involved in a ritual of leaving food out for the dead), misinterpreted. Thanks so much for stopping by to read and to drop these tidbits into comments! I'm off... excellent - got "stuff" to look up now.

      Thx again!

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Interesting hubs on revenants in the 12th century mythbuster. I think that you are probably right in saying that some of he poor souls were not actually dead when they were buried. Interesting also that the families thought that the revenants needed feeding even though they were supposedly dead. Mind you back then if someone contracted leprosy, they would carry out a funeral for them and the leper was from that time regarded as officially dead to the world and cut off from his or her family or friends, so there were several ways of being dead!

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Nell, I'm thinking that in the 12th Century, there probabaly were some people who legitimately left their grave...because they were buried alive! Instances of burying the "undead" in a literal sense are also chronicled and recorded in various historical volumes. I like your examples haha.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

      Hi, some of the links are sending me of to mars or somewhere! so I think the best thing to do is to just write in the search box:

      mary shelley's house marlow buckinghamshire.

      simple but effective! lol

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

      Hi Boo to you too! ha ha I forgot to say that he was probably not dead anyway, in those days they buried people for breaking a finger nail 'he's dead, we must bury them before dawn' and all that stuff, 'i ain't dead, I just bit my tongue and can't speak, hellllpppp! I will certainly get you the photo, I will be back! cheers nell

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hey Nell! Hey can ya get a pick of Mary Shelley's house for us? Neat stuff. I think the info about revenants and the husband hiding in the rafters is really creepy, too... and this all detailed by a "chronicler." I'm wondering if this legend is being "morphed" by the people (worldview) in Parvus' time here... it is a bit ambiguous what the chronicler intends by writing that the corpse came back to lay atop his wife (when he was supposed to be in his grave!). Could be the revenant returned home - could be revenge (he's trying to smother her?)... certainly in later times, most "revenant" accounts contain details that the revenant/recently deceased has reason to leave the grave, come back and commit some act of "payback." Usually the payback is an attempt to kill someone... We can't tell if this is what Parvus is trying to "get at" in the 12th Century account above.

      Oh hey...



    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

      Hi, great information, and thanks you have really creeped me out this time! lol I think that the story about the husband hiding in the rafters and then coming back was probably due to the wifes guilty feelings, I hope! But seriously this was a really detailed story, and something that I knew nothing about, obviously I had heard about zombies but this is different, and you may well be right about Mary Shelley getting her idea from this, Mary Shelley actually lived in a house just up the road from me, in west street, her name is still above the door! little bit of local history for you! thanks nell

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Not a bug, at all. I, too, am enjoying the discourse. I will look for the movie you've mentioned and try to watch it this evening. I will visit your hubs, as well, over the next couple of days to view your perspective and topics in greater depth.

      Yes, I think we may be able to appreciate Blake because we like to think of other perspectives than the one we hold by daylight hours lol

      Sorry to hear about the loss of your younger brother. It may take a lot of time to come to terms with such loss. I wish you and your family well on this matter and hope that you don't fall into many of the North American perspectives where grieving is concerned (namely - the one that says you get a couple of days off work to deal with a funeral - then "get over it" and get back to normal routine asap).

    • profile image

      dreamreachout 7 years ago

      I am enjoying this!! By the way, the North American horror movies are splendid to watch!! You can see Amitabh Bachchan's "Bhootnath" to get a glimpse of the Indian perspective of revenants!! Lovely movie!!

      I am liking your receptive and open to idea ways!! For the type of comments I write its very seldom that hubbers accept them with wise and open perspective!! I often get hubbers disapproving my comments and I comment on what I like, never for the heck of it, ofcourse with a few exceptions!! How is he a man if he doesn't have the strength to be open to criticism and cant garner himself in having a debate to get across his point!! Maybe, that is why we are so keen and avid fans of Blake!!

      I lost my younger brother last year!! He was younger by seven years and was only 31!! When such happenings occur in the family, we get more engrossed to paranormal subjects and dwell in some depths about revenants and alike matters!! Though my brother was too sweet to be a bad ghost!! Magzz(magnoliazz) knows all about the ways I always talk with my late brother and its always sweeter than sweet!! That sums up revenants as ghostly activities whether good or bad do occur and its a truth for us to believe!!

      Hope that I am not being a bug in keeping on commenting!!


    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Thanks so much for your input, dreamreachout. You've given me some new things to think about. I will definitely add some more to this hub and will go learn more about Tarapith, first. I choose to focus on the Euro-worldview here because of the recognizable connection revenants have with our modern zombie movies, whereas what I know, at least of India perspective, revenant/undead seem to have multiple purposes and concepts attached (often, protection or "accountability to ancient elders" "connection with ancient elders or even gods" etc)... Most of the Euro-concepts of revenants are negative, horrific, etc - and, heck, that makes for good horror movies in North America!

    • profile image

      dreamreachout 7 years ago

      All very correctly said, but in the cities of India amongst the educated people with good fiancial and social status, one will hardly find anyone believing in revenants and if talked off will pass it off as a laughter!!

      Maybe, we think and act according to our predicament!! Actually, I am getting to a more social issue wherein when somebody has money he/she will generally while away time after work in boozing, clubbing, eating-out, long drive, disco or any other alike chilling methods!! Unless someone is of the serious type, subjects like revenants will never crop up and maybe money keeps away everything except heart attack!!

      In India, "Tarapith" is the hub of these activities and people fear going inside the dreaded cremation ground there which is suppose to be the abode of the wild ghost and epicentre of paranormal activities!! You can google sometimes to find interesting facts about Tarapith!!

      I can understand that this hub has a wide scope for more information!! Afterall this subject and its examples are likely to be unending!!

      Anyways, its a pleasure interacting with you on the subject and look forward to more such exchanges in the future!!


    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      dreamreachout, thanks very much for the comments. I hadn't thought to explore much about this topic from the perspective of India-related legends. Actually, I more than hesitated to go with India-worldview because of the cultural differences between western minds and India worldview. Mind you, this hub has room for more information.....


      I understand that, beyond Euro-worldview and North American ways of thinking, revenants are actually concepts found ALL OVER the place... ie: mentioned in the Tibetan "Book of the Dead" (Shinje, the Tibetan Lord of Death, also called Yama), common in African legends, Asian lore, too - often called "wraiths" and even vampires in other cultures.

    • profile image

      dreamreachout 7 years ago

      Amazingly written and wonderfully narrated!! All this is widely believed in India, specially in the rural areas but I am surprised by such similar belief in America and Europe!!

      Great work .. Cheers!!

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      lol @ MickieDee. Thanks for sharing your tidbit about your ex...

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      saddlerider1 - I agree that the man who fell from the rafters may have had good reason to come back and haunt his unfaithful partner. And, yes - the issue of revenants was heavily on the minds of certain 12th Century personalities and a concern of the Church. I think a lot of our concepts about "zombies" for our modern day movies comes from lore and a few documents about these revenants. Vampire lore is connected with the concept of revenants, too. Creepy stuff!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      I had an ex that kept coming back but she'll never die though.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      palmerlarryray, thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll decide to browse the document in question - you'll get some interesting concepts from it that don't translate far into English summaries of William of Newburgh's works.

    • saddlerider1 profile image

      saddlerider1 7 years ago

      This is very interesting and seems to be a matter they took pretty serious back then. I wonder if Hollywood got the idea of creating zombies from this tale of old. To think that poor guy falling from the rafters to his death while watching his wife roll in the hay with another man.

      She deserved to be haunted by him.

    • palmerlarryray profile image

      Larry Ray Palmer 7 years ago from Macon, Missouri

      Great hub, very informative. I took a little Latin in high school... almost 20 years ago... I might have to take a look at the document you mentioned and see if I can translate anything....