From The Ecclesiastical History of Ordericus Vitalis
translated and with notes by Thomas Forester, MA
I ought not to suppress and pass over in silence what happened to a certain priest of the diocese of Lisieux in the beginning of January. In a village called Bonneval there was a priest named Walkelin who served the church of St. Aubin of Anjou, who from a monk became bishop and confessor. At the commencement of the month of January, 1091, this priest was summoned in the night time, as the occasion required, to visit a sick man who lived at the furthest extremity of his parish. As he was pursuing his solitary road homewards, far from any habitation of man, he heard a great noise like the tramp of a numerous body of troops, and thought within himself that the sounds proceeded from the army of Robert de Belesme on their march to lay seige to the castle of Courci. The moon, being in her eighth day in the constellation of the Earn, shed a clear light, so that it was easy to find the way. Now the priest was young, undaunted, and bold, and of a powerful and active frame of body. However, he hesitated when the sounds, which seemed to proceed from troops on the march first reached his ears, and began to consider whether he should take to flight to avoid being laid hold of and discourteously stripped by the worthless camp followers, or manfully stand on his defence if any one molested him. Just then he espied four medlar trees' in a field at a good distance from the path, and determined to seek shelter behind them, as fast as he could, until the cavalry had passed. But as he was running he was stopped by a man of enormous stature, armed with a massive club, who, raising his weapon above his head, shouted to him,"Stand! Take not a step further!” The priest, frozen with terror, stood motionless, leaning on his staff. The gigantic club-bearer also stood close to him, and, without offering to do him any injury, quietly waited for the passage of the troop. And now, behold, a great crowd of people came by on foot, carrying on their heads and shoulders, sheep, clothes, furniture, and moveables of all descriptions, such as robbers are in the habit of pillaging. All were making great lamentations and urging one another to hasten their steps. Among them the priest recognized a number of his neighbours who had lately died, and heard them bewailing the excruciating sufferings with which they were tormented for their evil deeds. They were followed by a troop of corpse-bearers, who were joined by the giant already mentioned. These carried as many as fifty biers, each of which was borne by two bearers. On these were seated a number of men of the size of dwarfs, but whose heads were as large as barrels. Two Ethiopians also carried an immense trunk of a tree, to which a poor wretch was rudely bound, who, in his tortures filled the air with fearful cries of anguish; for a horrible demon sat on the same trunk and goaded his loins and back with red-hot spurs until the blood streamed from them. "Walkelin distinctly recognized in this wretch the assassin of Stephen the priest, and was witness to the intolerable tortures he suffered for the innocent blood he shed two years before, since which he had died without penance for so foul a crime.
Then followed a crowd of women who seemed to the priest to be innumerable. They were mounted on horseback, riding in female fashion, with women's saddles which were stuck with red-hot nails. The wind often lifted them a cubit from their saddles, and then let them drop again on the sharp points. Their haunches thus punctured with the burning nails, and suffering horrible torments from the wounds and the scorching heat, the women pitiably ejaculated, woe! woe! and made open confession of the sins for which they were punished, undergoing in this manner fire and stench and unutterable tortures for the obscene allurements and filthy delights to which they had abandoned themselves when living among men. In this company the priest recognized several noble ladies, and beheld the palfreys and mules with the women's litters of others who were still alive.
Walkelin having seen these countless troops of soldiers pass, on reflection, said within himself: "Doubtless these are Harlequin's people ; f I have often heard of their being seen, but I laughed at the stories, having never had any certain proofs of such things. Now, indeed, I assuredly behold the ghosts of the departed, but no one will believe me when I tell the tale unless I can exhibit to mortal eyes some tangible proof of what I have seen. I will therefore mount one of the horses which are following the troop without any riders, and will take it home and show it my neighbours to convince them that I speak the truth." Accordingly he forthwith snatched the reins of a black steed, but the animal burst violently from his hold and galloped away among the troops of Ethiopians. The priest was disappointed at the failure of his enterprise ; but he was young, bold, and light-hearted, as well as agile and strong. He therefore stationed himself in the middle of the path, prepared for action, and the moment a horse came up, laid his hand upon it. The horse stopped, ready for him to mount without difficulty, at the same time snorting from his nostrils a cloud of vapour as large as a full-grown oak. The priest then placed his left foot in the stirrup, and, seizing the reins, laid his hand on the saddle, but he instantly felt that his foot rested on red-hot iron, and the hand with which he held the bridle was frozen with insupportable cold which penetrated to his vitals.
With these words the knight hastened away. The priest was seriously ill for a whole week; as soon as he began to recover his strength, he went to Lisieux and related all that had happened to Bishop Gilbert, in regular order, and obtained, on his petition, the salutary remedies he needed. He afterwards lived in good health almost fifteen years, and I heard what I have written, and more which has escaped my memory, from his own mouth, and saw the mark on his face left by the hand of the terrible knight. I have committed the account to writing for the edification of my readers, that the righteous may be confirmed in their good resolutions, and the wicked repent of their evil deeds. I now return to the history I have commenced.