Don’t ever doubt official history, bad things might happen

No one likes to read about the Turks being at odds with the French over the definitions of history. Or any other people for that matter. Some called it presumption, others justice. However, there is something that nobody dares to speak of, and that is divine justice. Of course, there’s no such thing in these matters. But it is worth telling the story of a similar case where denial and vindication went hand in hand. It does not belong to our world or at least not the world we think we know.

My story goes back to 1219 and to the capture of the Egyptian city of Damietta by Flemish crusaders accompanied by English barons. After much double, double, toil and trouble, the port was taken and the city subdued. As a token of their thankfulness to God who gave the Muslims into their hands, the English converted two mosques into churches and dedicated them to two purely English saints: Saint Edmund – an Anglo-Saxon martyr king of the 9th century – and St Thomas of Canterbury, none other than our Thomas Becket (not Richard Burton). Part of the consecration of the church involved painting the interior with scenes from the saints’s lives.

A certain 13th century English chronicle which goes by the name of Barnwell (it also happens to be the object of my doctorate, but never mind) mentions a curious episode that carries a rich dose of forewarning. According to the chronicler, the church of St Edmund, as it came to be known, hosted the painted life and martyrdom of the saintly king on the interior walls, all naked and pierced with the arrows of his heathen executioners, before having his head cut off in the last scene. It so happened that one day a certain Flemish went into the church and having contemplated the paintings, shocked everyone with his remark: “Certainly he wasn’t king because my people still have the boneless body and he know this to have happened in the time of King Henry II (in the second half of the 12th century)!” Having expressed his dismissal of received history, the poor fellow died of a stone that fell providentially on his head while still in the church, so that he “remained half-dead” for a while for everyone to see him. Historical truth was thus verified, the martyr glorified and the Flemish made history and a valuable lesson for those who might dare to go against canon.

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