Ancient Curses Uncovered In Two Countries

ancient curses, curses, curse, Carlisle
It’s been a good week for ancient curses.

A “cursing stone” has been discovered on the Isle of Canna, Scotland. More precisely called a bullaun stone, they’re natural or artificial depressions in a stone that catch rainwater and give it magical properties, usually to heal or to help women conceive a child. A shaped stone is placed in the hole that’s turned to make a prayer or curse.

The bullaun stone on the Isle of Canna is at the base of an early Christian cross dating to about 800 A.D. Now a round stone carved with a cross has been found that fits exactly into this depression. While bullaun stones are found in several European countries, it’s uncommon for both the stone and the base to be preserved.

Over in Italy, two ancient curses have been translated. A Spanish researcher working at the Archaeological Museum of Bologna has revealed the text of two curses inscribed on lead tablets in Roman times. Called a defixio, such curses were common in Greek and Roman times and often came mass produced with only the name of the target needing to be filled in. The ones in Bologna target an animal doctor and a senator, making it the first such curse found against a Roman senator.

One reads in part, “Crush, kill Fistus the senator. . .May Fistus dilute, languish, sink and may all his limbs dissolve …” The one against the animal doctor is no less nasty: “Destroy, crush, kill, strangle Porcello and wife Maurilla. Their soul, heart, buttocks, liver. . .”

Many museums have examples of these ancient nastygrams. One at the British Museum was found in London and curses a woman’s memory. Since it’s the only record of her to survive, it appears the curse worked.

Curses can be found all over the place. In Carlisle I came across a cursing stone made in 1525 by the Archbishop of Glasgow against the Border Reivers, Scottish raiders who stole English livestock. There’s a photo of it above. You can read the text of the curse in my article about Carlisle.

Carlisle Castle Celebrates 1000th Birthday

Carlisle Castle
One of England’s most besieged castles has turned the ripe old age of 1000 this year.

A new exhibition at Carlisle Castle in Carlisle, England, tells its thousand-year history. Well, approximately a thousand years, since nobody actually knows when the first castle was built here. Like with many great English castles, it got its start with a Roman fort. This fell to ruins and was replaced in the late 11th century by a Norman fort built by William II, son of the famous William the Conqueror, known to his detractors as “Billy the Bastard.”

Carlisle Castle is located on the English side of the Scottish border by an important river and town. This made it of vital strategic importance. The Scots took it several times, only to have it taken back by the English again and again in a series of bloody conflicts that only ended when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Scottish uprising lost at Culloden in 1745 and the bodies of my ancestors were tumbled into a mass grave.

(It’s a bit freaky to know there’s a mass grave with my name on it, but I don’t hold a grudge. Why should I?)

I got to visit Carlisle Castle when I hiked the Hadrian’s Wall Path. What remains of the castle is very well preserved and shows a series of changes over the years, not the least of which was when Henry VIII adapted the place for use by artillery. While artillery meant the death of most castles, Carlisle hung on because of its thick walls, earthworks, and the large number of artillery emplacements it had to defend itself. After 1745, however, it lost its purpose. There was never another serious rebellion in Scotland. The castle became the headquarters of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, which has recently moved out and been replaced by the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.

The oldest part of the castle, the Captain’s Tower, probably built around 1180, has opened for the first time in 25 years. There’s also a regimental museum on the grounds and some fascinating renaissance graffiti in the Keep, including a crude drawing of a mermaid.
Carlisle itself it worth a day or two of exploration, with its windy medieval streets, museums, old pubs and the most awesome indie bookshop in England.

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Britain’s Heritage Cities are ready for visitors


Britain's Heritage Cities are ready for visitors


Thanks to the London Olympics, which will open on July 27, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, 2012 is expected to be a boom year for tourism in Great Britain. In the hopes of capitalizing on this trend, six historic cities have teamed up to get noticed by travelers intent on venturing beyond the English capital.

Bath, Carlisle, Chester, Oxford, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and York, Britain’s so-called Heritage Cities, are trying to lure tourists with eight itineraries that explore their shared history. The Literary, Visual and Performing Arts tour, for example, takes in Oxford, Bath, and Stratford with stops at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Bodleian Library, the model for Hogwarts Library in the ‘Harry Potter’ series. Meanwhile, travelers interested in England’s North Country may want to follow the Great Castles, Stately Homes, and Gardens tour, which visits three countries (England, Wales, and Scotland) and three Heritage Cities (Carlisle, Chester, and York), and includes stops at a 12th century castle, the homes of Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth, and sections of Hadrian’s Wall.

Beyond exploring these cities in a package tour, Britain’s Heritage Cities website offers a glimpse of the top 10 attractions in each town. Did you know that York is considered the most haunted city in Europe? Or, that the city of Chester still carries on the medieval tradition of town criers? The most oh-so-British traditions and folklore live on in these Heritage Cities, so it may be worth checking them out while the past is still present.

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