Lore is a bi-weekly podcast (now also a TV show and book series) about dark historical tales. Each episode explores the mysterious creatures, tragic events, and unusual places that fill the pages of history. Because sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction.

Episode 228: Safe House

Episode 228: Safe House

Mon, 22 May 2023 04:01

Some corners of folklore offer us a place to hide. But when those traditions become a pawn in political and religious games, the stories they breed often leave us with chills.

Written and produced by Aaron Mahnke, with research by Cassandra de Alba and music by Chad Lawson.


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This episode of lore is sponsored by KiwiCo. While all of you know me as Erin the podcaster, I'm also Erin the parent, and one of the things my wife and I really focused on with our kids early on was finding new ways to have fun while learning, which is why we've been a fan of KiwiCo for years. One of the crates we recently received was for Bottle Rocket. As fans of lore, I know you appreciate the power of stories that transport you to different worlds, and what if I told you that KiwiCo can help bring those worlds to life right in your own backyard. With KiwiCo's Bottle Rocket project, you and your family can embark on a thrilling adventure into the world of science, engineering, and fun. KiwiCo's Bottle Rocket is a hands-on experience that will leave you with unforgettable memories. Redefine learning with play. Explore hands-on projects that build creative confidence and problem-solving skills with KiwiCo. 50% off your first month plus free shipping on any crate line at KiwiCo.com. Just a few weeks ago, England did something that it hadn't done in a long time. They crowned a new monarch, and with it happening in our modern world with social media, online video platforms, and major cable news networks, there's a good chance that you watched it happen, or at least saw a video clip or a few photos of the coronation ceremony. One thing that I absolutely love about this moment is the place where it took place. If you've never visited Westminster Abbey, it's a destination that you need to keep on your bucket list. If only for the splendor of being inside it. And while there's a lot to take in above your head, one of the things that most people notice when they visit the place is what sits below their feet. Graves. Not just a few, either. No there are currently over 3,000 people buried inside the walls of that church, and there's a reason for that. It seems that for a very long time, there was a belief that being inside meant that they were closer to God, and closer to the prayers of people every day. Prayers that could help their souls move from purgatory to heaven a lot faster than normal. And that idea of being buried closer to God is also why churches have their own graveyards. Of course if you've been to England or Europe, you know how romantic those church-centered burial grounds can be, crooked stones lined up like geriatric teeth, and covered in lichen and water stains. But even there, outside the walls of the church, there were rules about distance and location. The good folks, and please imagine massive air quotes there, were often allowed burial spots closer to the physical church building than those who lived on the margins of life, and often it was a corner far on the edge of the graveyard, where criminals would be late to rest. I think you get it. The more famous, moral, or wealthy a person was, the closer to God they were allowed to rest. We want to be closer to the sacred. Wherever we find holy sites, there's usually a history of human burial there. Some even predate the arrival of Christianity, focusing on stead on proximity to a sacred object, like a standing stone or an ancient tree. Whatever the reasons behind these rituals, they emphasize the obvious. We have a history with holy places, and that history extends well beyond the confines of the grave. I'm Aaron Mankey, and this is lore. It's one of those words that immediately conjures up imagery. Even if we start with its oldest form, way back to Latin, it won't take long for you to connect with it. Let's start with Sanctus, a word that meant holy. It's the trunk of a pretty big linguistic tree, but one of the branches early on was the word sanctuaryum, which literally meant a sacred place or shrine. And if you know anything about the world of the ancient Greeks, there was no shortage of sacred places or shrines. And maybe because of that, the Greeks set a template for the idea of what we would call sanctuary. In basic terms, anyone who needed a safe place to go, whether they were running from enemies or the law, could step inside a temple and be granted sanctuary. In most cases, people had to leave their weapons outside, and the folks pursuing them were not allowed to step inside and drag them out. If that rule was violated, bad things could happen, usually at the hands of the God who was worshipped at that particular temple. And we have some great examples from antiquity. Most people today have heard of the Trojan War, but we often forget a lot of the finer details. Cassandra was the princess of the city of Troy, the daughter of King Prime, and she was also a prophet, thanks to a divine gift from the God Apollo. There was a twist, though. She could see the future, but no one would believe her. So when she predicted that whole Trojan horse trick thing, everyone laughed at her, until that is the Greeks took over the city. And Cassandra, knowing what would happen, made a beeline for the temple of Athena, where she took sanctuary. But that's when one of the Greeks, a guy named Ajax the lesser, decided the covenant of sanctuary wasn't important to him, and went inside and dragged her out. The rest of the Greeks, including Odysseus, quoted Han Solo and said, I've got a bad feeling about this, expecting Athena's wrath to destroy all of them. So Ajax turned the tables and returned to the temple of Athena for some sanctuary of his own, which had somehow now become important to him again, and then he later escaped by ship. And that's when it happened, for violating Cassandra's sanctuary, Athena sunk his ship and killed him. And then there's the story of Sylon of Athens, a political trader who tried to organize a coup in 632 BC. When his attempt to overthrow the government failed, Sylon and his fellow insurrectionists tried to hide out in the temple of Athena, but they didn't plan well and no one brought food, so they began to starve. Not wanting their deaths to take place inside the sacred space of the temple, the authorities finally agreed to let them leave and head to trial. But the criminals were a little worried about how the rest of the city might treat them once they got outside. So they tied a super long rope to the statue of Athena inside, and they all walked out still holding on, like a great school kid trying to bend the rules. How did it end? Well, someone snuck up behind them and cut the rope, disconnecting them from sanctuary, and then the people of Athens slaughtered them all. Their bodies were buried in a mass grave, and lost a time. Now over the centuries, the Greeks kept refining the rules of sanctuary. It became pretty clear that clever people were taking advantage of this religious system, so more and more limitations were added on. And when the Romans arrived on the scene, they did even more editing to the concept. The Roman law, sanctuary became a temporary state, not a permanent one, and the list of offenders who could seek sanctuary inside a temple got smaller. Specifically, murderers, adulterers, and deaders were no longer safe, which probably saved those temples a lot of time, if we're honest. And as the cult of the Emperor grew in Rome, statues and temples in their honor also became divine places of safety. So there you have a brief tour of the ancient world and their tradition of sanctuary. It's clear that violating it came with consequences. Sometimes that was social, and other times, if the stories are true, those consequences were supernatural. But as the laws surrounding sanctuary became more and more refined, claiming it got a lot more complicated. And to see that, we'll have to fast forward to a very different place and time. The Middle Ages of Christian Europe. It happened because of a marriage. Not between two people, mind you. No, sanctuary grew and spread thanks to the marriage of the Roman Empire to the Christian Church. Remember, sanctuary was Roman civil law. But as Rome became more and more Christian, state law often became a rule within the church as well. Which is how churches all across Europe became medieval versions of those old temples of Athena. Some things had changed, though. For one, murderers were back in the game, with the law allowing them to seek sanctuary inside a holy place. And the churches mostly seemed to be okay with it, often looking at those moments as the chance to evangelize and convert the worst of society. There were also some strict rules, just like in the ancient world. Weapons must be left outside the church, and they even had to specify no bows and arrows because apparently enough criminals had tried to shoot at the authorities from church windows that it needed to be spelled out more clearly. Oh, and this covenants of sanctuary could only last 40 days. Now, a handful of people would eventually receive a pardon from the king, or have their charges dropped, and then be able to leave. But most of the time, the person in sanctuary had a decision to make at the end of their 40 days, stay in town and face the consequences, or claim exile and run away. And naturally, there were some wild traditions around that practice too. In many cases, folks claiming exile were required to trade in their clothing for sackcloth, and they had to leave the church barefoot. Some places even required them to carry a cross as they headed out of town, which they had to do in a straight line, never leaving the road. We know more about sanctuary in England than we do the rest of Europe, mostly because the English really love to make and write down lots and lots of laws. Plus, a lot of those old cathedrals are still around, and we can see the physical evidence of the practice right inside them. A number of churches, like Durham Cathedral, for example, had small chambers built above the side doors, where clergy could keep a 24-7 watch for people seeking sanctuary. They even had a special bell, called the Galilee bell, that they would ring every time someone stepped inside for safety. After that, the fugitive would have to confess the crime that brought them there, right down to the specific details like murder weapon, dates, places, and names, and all of that. And thanks to the English addiction to writing everything down, tons of those records have survived to this day. Oh, and one other thing, sanctuary wasn't always limited to the interior of the church building. Everly, for example, sanctuary actually started two miles away, and that invisible boundary was marked by stone crosses on the four major roads leading into town. And if people tried to capture a fugitive inside that two-mile ring, they were fine. Just how much that fine was, dependent on how close they were to the church, but it grew exponentially as they got closer, until the final level was a fine called bootless, which just meant that the price was so high that no one would be able to pay it, so their life was forfeits instead. But my favorite little story from this period comes from London. In 1321, there was a woman named Isabel of Burry, who was inside the church at all hollows on the wall, and she was talking to a friend named Joan. Now apparently the women were a bit too loud for the church's liking, and so one of the clerks, a guy named Gilbert Leiter, came over and asked them to leave. But Isabel Burry did not like to be told to shut up, especially by men, so rather than leave the church, she pulled a knife and stabbed Gilbert in the chest, instantly killing him. Joan freaked out of course, and bolted from the church, where she was immediately arrested for her involvement. But not Isabel, no she was smarter than that. She looked around, realized that the safest place she could be was right there inside the church, and she immediately claimed sanctuary. Actually, I like to imagine her doing it sort of like how Michael Scott on the office declared bankruptcy, but that's just me. Anyway, there was a hot minute there where the authorities outside, as well as the clergy inside, didn't really know what to do. But they soon decided that sanctuary only applied to crimes committed outside, not inside the church, so they came in and arrested her. Isabel of Burry was then imprisoned, put on trial, and eventually executed for her crime by hanging. Apparently there were some limitations to sanctuary, and she had found one of them. The sanctuary wouldn't be limited to small crimes and common city folk. Just a century later, in the mid-1400s, it actually became the centerpiece of a major political drama, a tool in a sort of game of thrones that played out right there in England. And while sanctuary typically meant safety, this particular event taught us another important lesson. Not all walls are places of refuge. It's a complicated moment in English history. So complex in fact that if I were to go too deep into detail, you would need to get out of the piece of paper and take notes. So assuming that a lot of you are driving right now or maybe outside on a walk, I'm not going to go that far, but you do need to know the basics. In 1455, a war started between two branches of the same family. England had been ruled by the Plantagenets and now two different houses, the Lancaster's and the Yorks, were battling over who got to sit on the throne. King Henry VI headed up the Lancaster's, and his cousin Edward IV led the Yorks. And because both houses used a rose as their symbol, the struggle has been known as the War of the Roses. In 1461, Edward actually won, claiming the throne for himself and locking Henry in the Tower of London. A couple of years later, Edward married a lady named Elizabeth Woodville, who most people didn't really care for, mostly because she lacked the titles that one would expect for a queen. She just came from a nice family, which was apparently enough for Edward. Now in 1470, some internal strife forced Edward to run away to Flanders, and Henry was set free and placed back on the throne. But when Edward flew the coupe, he did so alone, leaving his very pregnant wife Elizabeth and their three daughters behind. So what did they do? They ran for sanctuary, of course. Interesting detail here, like I said before, most churches had a 40-day limitation on sanctuary, but not Westminster Abbey. There was no time limit there, and a lot of fugitives just ended up living there for decades. Some historians believe that because of that, upwards of a thousand people each year went looking there for sanctuary. So that's where Elizabeth and her kids headed. While she was there, she gave birth to a son, Edward the fifth, and enjoyed safety inside the church walls. And then a year later, her husband Edward the fourth managed to retake the throne, and she and the kids were able to rejoin him. Henry the sixth, sadly, headed back to the Tower of London. Over a decade went by. Elizabeth and Edward had another son, Richard, and the pair of boys were inseparable. But then in 1483, King Edward unexpectedly passed away at the age of 41, and his brother, also named Richard, sorry, stepped in as protector to Edward's heir. Except he had eyes for the throne himself, so instead of helping young Edward out, he captured him and locked him up in the Tower of London. Elizabeth instantly knew what she had to do, and so she returned to Westminster Abbey for sanctuary. And they took her, plus her three daughters and remaining son, inside. That's when the dastardly Richard III sent in the big guns. He had the archbishop of Canterbury go over to Westminster Abbey and talk to Elizabeth. According to him, since her nine-year-old son, Richard was too young to stand trial, he was also too young to claim sanctuary, so he was taken away, right out from under the protection of the church there, and locked up with his brother Edward in the Tower. After that year, Richard III was officially crowned King, and the two boys, the true heirs to the throne, sort of faded into the background. Helped along, of course, by the fact that they would remain prisoners for the rest of their lives. The last time they were seen by people passing by the Tower was two weeks after their uncle became King. After that, they vanished. Elizabeth, on the other hand, played the long game. A year later, Richard promised to leave her alone, and she left sanctuary with her daughters. A year after that, Richard was defeated in battle by a newcomer, Henry Tudor, who took the title of Henry VII, and who did he marry? One of Elizabeth's daughters, also named Elizabeth. Elizabeth Woodville would make a few appearances in court over the coming years, but she would spend most of her time living at Bermansy Abbey in London. Whether it was that old instinct to seek sanctuary, or just a desire to live a life of solitude, we will never know. She passed away there in 1492, taking her motivation to the grave. And with that, one of the most famous uses of sanctuary in English history came to a close. But that didn't mean that there were no more mysteries left to solve. I think it's important to remember the power that words can have. Some are malleable, shifting and changing over the centuries to cast off old meanings and put on entirely new ones. Those are the words that often require a road map, helping us understand why we use them the way we use them today. Other words, though, are crystal clear. They have this lineage that seems to shoot straight backward in time to a target that still makes sense to our modern minds. But thanks to a combination of the shadows of Latin within the English language, and a bit of pop culture, it's very clear that sanctuary is one of those obvious terms. History, as I hoped you've noticed, is littered with the idea of a safe haven from the outside world that could only be found on sacred ground. From the temples of the ancient Greeks, all the way up through the centuries to the towering cathedrals of England and Europe, people have a history of running toward their gods' house in search of refuge. Even that old childhood game of tag, where players could be safe from being tagged if they were touching a certain object or structure, feels like it's pulled right from those ancient traditions. Maybe it's a feature of human nature. We all crave a safe house. Remember the story I told earlier of Silon of Athens who tried to overthrow the government of the city? Well, back in 2016, archaeologists discovered a mass grave containing 80 skeletons, some of whom had shackles on their arms, many historians think it's all that remains of Silon and his followers. And speaking of skeletons, something else has been discovered. Back in 1674, almost two centuries after the War of the Roses, workers doing a renovation at the Tower of London found a wooden chest tucked away beneath an old staircase, and inside it, the bones of two individuals, both of whom were still children. The bones were gathered up and placed in an elaborate marble urn, and then buried in Westminster Abbey. They were labeled with a pretty presumptive claim, too. Here lie the relics of Edward V King of England, and Richard Duke of York. And then, after a bit of pomp, they were slowly forgotten again. Almost a century ago, in 1933, the urn was opened and the contents were re-examined. It seems that the bones did indeed match those of two boys that were in that 9-12-year-old range, and they even showed some structural oddities that have been seen in other plantagenet bones. So they were re-barried with the assumption that the label was indeed correct in claiming they belonged to Edward and Richard. Over the years, their tragic fate has invited a whole range of theories, and visitors to the Tower of London have even claimed to see their ghosts, holding hands as they float through the halls of the tower. And there's even a group of researchers who are out to prove that the boy's uncle, Richard III, wasn't a bad guy after all. They've mounted a project to prove that Richard actually saved their lives, sending at least one of the brothers into exile. It's got this whole, da Vinci code atmosphere to it, complete with cryptic symbols carved into a distant church. Of course, medical science has come a long way since then. A genetic test could obviously be the definitive way of putting an end to the mystery. But so far, the Church of England has refused all requests to open the urn and study the bones further. For now, the mystery will have to remain unsolved, and the brothers, if of course the bones are truly theirs, will remain in a very poetic place. Inside the very sanctuary, they once called home. I hope today's exploration of the concept of sanctuary was as enthralling for you as it was for my team and I to put together. There's so much tradition and odd behavior bound up in that word, and it really does hold a gold mine of fantastic stories. But not all sanctuaries were known as a destination. Some in fact worked the other way around, and I have just the story set aside to explain what I mean by that. Stick around through this brief sponsor break to hear all about it. This episode of lore was made possible by Wondrium. I love learning about the truth behind legends. For over 8 years, that's the journey I've taken you on here. So any chance that I get to learn something new about a classic story is a good thing. And thanks to Wondrium, I found another. Right now I'm listening to their course called The Real History of Dracula, and it is fantastic. I particularly love how the experts teaching the course, Sarah and Brittany, explore the myth through the lens of Brahms Stoker's novel, which really did give birth to a monster. My favorite way to enjoy Wondrium's content is on my walks, headphones in, and head full of knowledge. That's why Wondrium is my favorite educational platform. The app is so easy to use, and I can switch between video and audio seamlessly while I'm on the go. Wondrium has over 8,000 hours of video, plus they are always adding new content, and it's always add free. All the information is vetted, and the professors and experts who present them really know their stuff. I know you'll love Wondrium too, so do what I did and sign up today. Right now, Wondrium is offering lore listeners a free month. Sign up today with my special URL, Wondrium.com slash lore. That's W-O-N-D-R-I-U-M dot com slash lore. This episode was also made possible by KiwiCo. KiwiCo is reinventing the future of play through hands-on projects designed to be fun and engaging, and to spark a lifelong passion for learning. How? Every month KiwiCo delivers crates that are packed with kid-friendly topics and activities, and they have subscription lines that span all sorts of ages, from infants to teens and beyond. I have personally helped my kids with KiwiCo projects that talk them things like robotics, printmaking, and electrical wiring. I can't begin to tell you how rewarding it is to watch my kids expand their knowledge and get real hands-on skills from these crates. And look, I know how hard it can be to find creative ways to keep your kids busy and challenged and away from their screens. It's a struggle, for sure. But KiwiCo does the legwork for you, so you can spend quality time with your kids on exciting monthly projects. Redefine learning with play. Explore hands-on projects that build creative confidence and problem-solving skills with KiwiCo. Get 50% off your first month, plus free shipping on any crate line at KiwiCo.com-slash-lower. That's 50% off your first month, at k-i-w-i-c-o-dot-com-slash-lower. And finally, this episode was made possible by Squarespace. It's a lot of work making creative things, I know. As a person who makes more than one podcast, I'd like to think that I understand that stress more than most. Heck, Grimm and Mild, the company that I built to handle all of those shows, now has 10 full-time people working there, making all sorts of amazing content, and they deserve a showcase for all their hard work that's just as amazing. And for that, I turn to Squarespace. Why? Because Squarespace has everything that I need to build the perfect website. See for yourself, go to GrimmandMild.com and check out what I was able to make. All of that was done with zero web coding skills, just the powerful drag-and-drop tools that make Squarespace so easy to use. If you need creative help, Squarespace has a massive library of gorgeous website templates, powerful e-commerce features if you want to sell something online, free web hosting, and award-winning 24-7 customer support. Honestly, Squarespace is more than just a website to me. It's a secret weapon. So what are you waiting for? Build your new website today. Just visit squarespace.com-slash-lower to start your free trial website. And when you're ready to launch it, use the offer code lore at checkout to save 10%. Squarespace. That's something beautiful. Temples of the ancient world might have served as sanctuary for those who needed to slip away, but those buildings were far from empty. In fact, most of them were staffed with teams of special people, whose job it was to run and manage all of the services that those temples offered. And while that's a deep well to dip into, there's one group of temple residents that deserve a bit more attention. The Vestal Virgins of Rome. They get their name from Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. She was represented by fire and had deep ties to the founding of Rome itself. In fact, it was a Vestal Virgin named Rhea Sylvia who gave birth to twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, who would eventually establish the city of Rome. In Roman minds, without the Vestal Virgins, there would be no Rome. How did the process work? Well, Vestal Virgins were chosen for their role between the ages of 6 and 10. They had to be free-born children, of free-born parents, both of which were still alive, and be free of physical and mental defects. The ancient Romans, you have to remember, were obsessed with perfection. And if the Vestal Virgins represented the core of Rome, that perfection had to apply to them as well. Once brought to the temple, they would begin a 30-year service to Vesta. They lived right there in special quarters, and as their name suggests, had to remain chased the entire time. Then once their term was up, they were free to move on and even get married. Most of their time was spent retrieving water from a sacred spring, which they carried in special containers that could not be set down without spilling. And of course, with Vesta being the goddess of the hearth, there was also a sacred flame inside the temple, which these priestesses were in charge of keeping lit at all times. A dead flame meant a dead Rome. So no pressure, right? Now when I first started reading about the Vestal Virgins, my instinct was to be upset about their lack of freedom. Taken from their family, kept inside the temple and never allowed to do so many of the things their peers could do. It felt cruel, but the truth is more complex. Yes, those things were true. But as Vestal Virgins, they also enjoyed more rights and privileges than other women at the time. Their legal and financial status was a lot closer to that of men in their day, which made them powerful figures. And yet, there was always the possibility for tragedy. You see, every now and then, one of the Vestal Virgins would break her vow of chastity. They were human, after all, but their status as Vesta's representatives on earth also meant that they couldn't be punished in the same way. In fact, it was illegal to spill their blood, so the authorities had to get creative with how to punish those who broke their vow. A chamber would be built beneath the ground close to one of the walls of Rome, and a set of stairs would be laid in, leading down into the room. If you didn't know what it was for, you might be forgiven for assuming that it was a nice space. There would be a comfortable couch, a lit lamp, and small portions of water and bread and other essentials. I imagine this space as a sort of home away from a home version of their quarters back in the temple, except this was a home that they would never leave. Because after being escorted there on a covered litter, in a sort of silent parade sounded by onlookers, the high priest would loudly proclaim her crime and punishment, offer up some prayers, and then send her toward the staircase. The former Vestal Virgins would then have to walk down those stairs and sit on the couch. After that the door would be closed, these stone steps would be pulled back up, and soil would be poured back into the opening, sealing her in forever. This episode of lore was written and produced by me, Erin Manke, with research by Cassandra DeAlba and Music by Chad Lawson. Lore is much more than just a podcast, there's a book series available in bookstores and online, and two seasons of the television show on Amazon Prime Video. Check them both out if you want more lore in your life. The information about all of that and more is available over at lorepodcast.com. You can also follow this show on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Just search for lorepodcast, all one word, and then click that follow button. And when you do, say hi. I like it when people say hi. And as always, thanks for listening. We're Chad and with Phil from Heart Nissan. We talked about inventory earlier. Are there any specific models that are hot right now? Oh yeah. We get a lot of customers looking for trucks this time of year. And of course, we have the Nissan Titan and Titan next to you. It's the only full size truck with a five year, 100,000 mile warranty. Right now, we have 0% financing for up to 60 months. And by the way, Titan is proudly made in America. Oh yeah, a new Titan for summer beach trips. That sounds nice. Absolutely. Another popular model is the all new electric Nissan Arria. So if you're looking for a more environmentally friendly vehicle, come check it out. And right now, get 7,500 customer lease cash with your Arria lease. 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