Mirabilia, Hellequin’s Masnada!

Mirabilia, Hellequin’s Masnada!

Mirabilia, the marvelous has an ancient heritage and in the medieval West it represented an inverted universe: worlds of monsters, beasts and the dead.

The medieval literature of mirabilia is particularly rich in stories relating to the apparitions of the spirits of dead people to the living and the collective apparitions of the dead who enter in large numbers, under the name of Hellequin’s Masnada starting from the 11th century. The root of the name is of Germanic origin: Hölle König (king of hell), translated into Helleking, then into Harlequin, with a clear infernal derivation, but this “infernal” interpretation of the name is clearly Christian. The belief in spirits also originates from the cult of the dead typical of the pre-Christian cultural fabric, both of Greek-Roman and Germanic-Celtic matrix.

At the time the early medieval Church was very concerned about the belief that the dead can return to visit the living, as it embodied one of the survivals of paganism and, starting from the eleventh century, showed a strong will towards the Christianization of the pagan residue of the cult of the dead. . Between 1024 and 1033 Cluny instituted, on November 2, the feast of the Dead, strategically placed on the following day of All Saints. The celebration immediately met with great fortune and quickly established itself throughout Western Christianity as the key moment in the liturgical commemoration of the dead. The theme of the threatening collective apparition of the dead, before its written appearance in the eleventh century, had had an almost absent space in previous literature, although it found an illustrious ancestor in Tacitus’ Germany, which he mentions when speaking of the Germani Harii population, who fighting at night, with shields and faces dyed black, they assumed a ghostly appearance in the eyes of the Roman historian.

Then Paul the Deacon History of the Lombards, relates that, in the fifth century, on the occasion of an epidemic of plague he felt like the roar of an army to accompany the terrible scourge. The oldest reference of the Hellequin gang is found in the Historia ecclesiastica, written between 1123 and 1137 by Orderico Vitale, an Anglo-Norman monk of the abbey of Saint-Évroult, who transcribed the apparition of the army of the dead to a Norman priest of Saint-Aubin de Bonneval named Guachelmo. The apparition, narrated through the words of Guachelmo himself, takes place on the night of January 1, 1091, when the priest, after hearing the thunderous sounds of a marching militia, saw a terrifying and composite army pass in front of him, led by a giant and formed of recently dead parsone, personally known to him, a crowd of tortured women on horseback for their sins, black monks and knights. Seeing the latter Guachelmo understood that he was in the presence of the Herlechini family, of which he had already heard. In order to prove that he had met this infernal army, the priest decided to stop one of the knights, but the armor burned his hand and he would have risked being hit by the violent fury of these if another knight had not come to his defense, promptly. recognized as the brother of the priest, who begged him to pray for him and offer alms and say masses, in order to shorten his period of atonement.

Following this apparition Guachelmo fell ill but lived another fifteen years, enough to allow Olderico Vitale to hear this testimony and to verify with his own eyes the indelible signs of the burns reported by the priest. A Welsh cleric Gualtiero, Walter, Map nickname given by the English to the Welsh. Gualtiero at the court of Henry II Plantagenet, in De nugis curialium, 1182-1193) collects numerous stories and wonders, in one work the author compares the gang of Hellequin, here called familia Herlethingi to write a real myth in Celtic origins of Great Britain. In this text by Gualtiero the name of this gang is in fact made descend from that of Herla, the king of the Bretons who had made an eternal pact with the king of the dwarves.

In this story we understand how dangerous it is to the living, the Breton rei with the dead the dwarves. . In the deceptive offer of gifts made by the king of the dwarves to Herla there are: horses, dogs, falcons and all that is necessary for hunting on horseback and with the hawk, and a bulldog in the original Latin canis sanguinaris translatable into the English bloodhound, to express on purpose, the ruthlessness of the animal. The king of the dwarves, before dismissing Herla and her entourage, forbids them to dismount before the bulldog brought as a gift. When Herla returns to earth she learns from a shepherd that two centuries have passed since her departure and now the country is occupied by the Saxons. Herla and hers will be forced to wander forever because the ferocious dog will never come down, condemning them to the eternal aerial ride. In this tale the king of the dwarves is a supernatural character, who comes from a world other than that of men, binds Herla to his power with a false pact, covers him with gifts that characterize him as a hunter, conductor of the wild hunt, another Mirabilia and drags him to ruin.

At that time the Addams family did not exist, born only in 1938, as a comic strip created by Charles Addams in 1938, on the pages of the New Yorker but only the Mirabilia with pagan pre-existences on the dead and their cult.

Mirabilia, Hellequin’s Masnada!