chapter  7
23 Pages

Popular Religion and Heresy

One of the most striking and detailed descriptions of the medieval ‘visionary imagination’ can be found in Book Eight of Orderic Vitalis’ Ecclesiastical History. Writing in c. 1131, he tells the story of ‘Hellequin’s Host’, derived from an account of a priest called Walchelin who claimed that it had happened to him while returning from visiting a sick parishioner on the outskirts of the village of Bonneval in the diocese of Lisieux on the night of 1 January 1091. Orderic accepted this as fact not because he believed every story of this kind that he heard, but because he thought that he had a trustworthy witness. He started from the assumption that visions, miracles and supernatural events were perfectly possible, were, indeed, an integral part of the world in which he lived, but that, like any other story, they needed to be treated critically. But Walchelin’s story is interesting not only for the way that it demonstrates contemporary perceptions of the world, but also because its content is the basis of similar stories found elsewhere in western Christendom. It therefore has more than a local significance (Chibnall 1973:4:237-51).