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Episode 49 – Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories

December 22, 2015 | Episodes | Comments (9)

What could be more worthy of a Christmas episode than a ghost story? Answer: twelve ghost stories!  This week Mike and Will find plenty of seasonal cheer in the scribblings of a 15th century monk from Yorkshire, whose collected tales of wandering spirits Monty transcribed in 1922.  Expect lashings of purgatorial terrors, a stocking-full of redemption and a whole load of bad wassailing, ghostly and otherwise*, as we explore Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories.


  • The Byland Abbey Project  has all the stories, plus translation notes and commentary on each story.  Invaluable!
  • Ghosts in Medieval Yorkshire, by Jacqueline Simpson, is a fantastic article, not least for  Jacqueline’s analysis of the different roots of James’ ghost stories and these medieval tales.
  • Mark Gatiss talks about medieval manuscripts with a curator at the Fitzwilliam Museum  in his 2013 documentary Ghostwriter (contains images some listeners will hopefully find disturbing).
  • Death and the Afterlife – a British Library article with examples of medieval Books of Hours and other context for understanding the 15th century view of mortality, purgatory and salvation.
  • Underrated BBC Radio 4 discussion show Beyond Belief (it’s great, even for atheists!) ran an episode on purgatory, which may not be available to listeners outside of the UK.

Happy Christmas and we’ll see  you again in 2016!

* no, seriously. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.




  1. Marcia says:

    Great podcast as always, guys, thanks!
    Some notes: people have got sick in M.R.James’ stuff after touching the supernatural too. The boy McLeod in A School Story is out sick from school for what, a week or more, after the first incident.
    In regard to the story with the child in the shoe, I notice nobody said anything about the wife. She just lost a baby and even in the calloused days of yore, she must have had feelings about the loss yet it’s totally not dealt with in any way as if she lost a glove or, why not, a spoon. That actually struck me as typical of stories that old but it was upsetting. The husband is mad about it but no one stops to wonder how she must have felt. The entire town must have know about it, yet it’s almost like a non-event other than the husband’s right to be mad at her. Anyway. I hope you had a great Christmas, all, and have a good safe New Years’.

  2. Marcia says:

    Darn it I had more, sorry. A ghost accomplishing it’s own vengeance isn’t just Lost Hearts but the Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance too. The uncle gets his own back out of the Punch and Judy men that killed him.

  3. […] Podcast of the Curious had a Christmas surprise for us, with a new episode all about a collection of 12 medieval ghost ‘stories’ transcribed and publi….  Amusing, odd, and offering a bit of insight into the Medieval English worldview (i.e. very […]

  4. Chris says:

    How do I actually download an episode? The Download link just opens a streaming window but I’d like to listen when I’m out of signal, which is quite often. I’m using an Android phone and a Kindle Fire HD. Is there something I’m doing wrong?

    • Will Ross says:

      Hi Chris, sorry for the belated reply.
      The download button works differently depending on what browser you are using. On my Android phone with Chrome I can hold my finger on the download link for a second and it gives me options, including download. However, you may find it easier to download a dedicated podcast app (of which there are many to choose from) and listen via that.

  5. Richard Leigh says:

    Loved your comment in the links that Purgatory may not be available to listeners outside the UK. It’s rare for you to stray into political comment. Happy new year, by the way…….

  6. James says:

    Hi Guys!

    I love the podcast; please keep it coming. You managed to make even Innimate Objects and After Dark in the Playfields seem like a worthwhile read (though only in retrospect).

    Now, are you going to the MR James conference? If so, is it possible to secure an audience with you? I have booked my brother tickets and I think he may actually like this birthday present for once. The icing on the cake would be some arcane literary banter with the experts.

    Help me Mike and Will, your my only hope.


  7. James says:

    That should be you’re, not your. Please don’t penalise me for that.

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