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Historical tales behind terrifying statues and the medieval art of death

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Historical tales behind terrifying statues and the medieval art of death

Cathedrals and cemeteries across the UK are filled with imagery relating to death and mortality.

From the carved angels standing watch over graves to the chubby cherubs sighing skywards, these symbols of mortality have been around since medieval times.

In the middle of the 14th century, Britain was facing tremendous strain due to the devasting floods and diseases that it faced. Furthermore, there had been a massive outbreak of crime that came in the wake of the Great Famine (1315-1317).

This led to swift political upheaval and two decades after the famine, King Edward III argued his right to the French throne and launched England into the punishing slog of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453).

In the midst of the war, a sailor arriving in Weymouth brought a devasting blow to Britain by bringing in the Black Death.

The plague spread rapidly throughout the British Isles, and within a year around half of the population – particularly in busy cities – had succumbed to the disease.

It’s estimated that between 75-200 million people across Europe, Africa and Asia died in the years 1346 to 1353. It remains the most fatal pandemic in human history.

Terrifying paintings



The Three Dead confronting the Three Living at St Andrew’s, Wickhampton
The Three Dead confronting the Three Living at St Andrew’s, Wickhampton

With so many catastrophes striking the country, it’s no surprise that medieval people had thoughts of their own mortality on their minds.

The one small comfort for common folk was that death came to everyone, regardless of wealth and rank. Memento mori , artistic reminders that we all must die, had been around since Roman times, but in the aftermath of so many tragedies it became increasingly popular in medieval art.

The creepiest examples are wall paintings representing the Three Living and the Three Dead.

Written versions of the tale date back to 1280. In it, three rich noblemen go out hunting with their falcons. In the woods they encounter three hideous corpses in successive states of decay.

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Horrified, the nobles can only stare at this vision of their future selves.

The message is rammed home by medieval ‘speech bubbles’ written above and around the zombie-like dead: As you are, so once were we, says one. As we are now, so you will be, says the second, the most skeletal of the dead. Therefore, prepare to follow me, concludes the third, beckoning the nobles to join them.

At St Pega’s church in Peakirk, Northamptonshire, the nobles are dressed in expensive clothes, and the dead, almost in mockery, are emerging from their burial shrouds.

In Belton’s church of All Saints, near Great Yarmouth, the three nobles are on horseback. Seeing the horrible grinning corpses, one of the nobles tries to turn his mount, crying, ‘I will flee!” But there is no escape, as the painting in Holy Trinity church, Wensley, in North Yorkshire, reminds us.

Though the fresco is fragmentary now, the legs of the dead can still be seen, with worms crawling out of their flesh.

Morbid memorials



The transi tomb of John FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel
The transi tomb of John FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel

The macabre paintings of the Three Living and the Three Dead illustrated to the mostly illiterate poor not only that death was a great leveller, but also that pride in one’s wealth or looks was fleeting.

The morbid frescos provided a moral lesson for the viewer, and in the 14th century a new type of tomb decoration appeared that took the subject a step further.

Known as transi tombs (from the Latin transire , ‘to pass away’), these morbid memorials were a development of grave effigies called gisants, which show the deceased at the idealised peak of their life – the age of 33, Jesus’ age at his crucifixion and resurrection.

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Rather than the perfect smooth features and costly robes of the gisant tomb, the new-style transi depicted the deceased as a rotting corpse, sometimes with worms crawling and rats gnawing at the body.

Royalty, nobles and high-ranking churchmen all vied to create the most elaborate transi tomb.

One of the best examples in England is the ‘double-decker’ transi tomb of John FitzAlan, the seventh Earl of Arundel.

John served as a successful military commander in action against the French during the Hundred Years’ War, and was tipped for greater things. But during a battle in 1435, he was shot in the leg. The wound festered and although his leg was amputated, he did not survive.

His body was returned home to Arundel, West Sussex, where it was laid to rest in his extraordinary tomb.

The top half shows John as he was in life – a pious knight in full armour, a sword at his side and his feet resting on a lion.

Below, in a skilfully carved representation of a stone coffin with delicate Gothic frames, another version of John can be seen – a cadaver, eyes shrunken, mouth peeled back over the teeth, bones showing through decaying skin.

The shroud surrounding John’s corpse has peeled away, allowing us to see the reality of death contrasted with the glory of life.

It’s thought that transi tombs were a way for medieval people to come to terms with their own deaths. It may also symbolise the passage of the soul from this world to the next.

The last dance



Yonne: La Ferté-Loupière, danse macabre
Yonne: La Ferté-Loupière, danse macabre

The hideous corpses of the Three Living and the Three Dead and the chilling transi tombs influenced one of the most famous representations in medieval art – the danse macabre , or Dance of Death.

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In frescos, across carved panels, and on the pages of illuminated manuscripts, skeletons jigged and cavorted with people from all walks of life.

Symbolising the human need to have fun even in the midst of fear, the danse macabre also illustrates that death comes at any time to anyone, from the most powerful king to the lowliest peasant.

The church of Saint-Germain in La Ferté-Loupière, southeast of Paris, has murals dating from 1500 depicting a crowded danse macabre.

Despite the sombre nature of the paintings, the artists included some cheeky humour – a skeleton band plays while a bony figure tries to get an unwilling bishop to dance. Elsewhere, a skeleton shoves its way in between a wealthy couple, tweaking the woman’s veil and grinning at the shocked young man.

In another scene, a skeleton stands between a monk and a hermit – the dance is over, and all three are taking a bow.

The danse macabre can be found in many British churches, too, including a fine series of painted panels in Hexham Abbey in Northumberland.

The motif became so popular that Hans Holbein, court artist to King Henry VIII, produced a series of woodcuts depicting the subject in the 1520s.

Holbein’s version showed the skeletons as agents of justice, pointing out hypocrisy such as the nun pretending to pray while gazing at her lover. By the time of Holbein’s death, his danse macabre was so in demand that dozens of pirated editions were being sold.

The influence of the danse macabre continued for centuries – even Walt Disney produced a version in 1929, titled The Skeleton Dance .

And we still pay homage to it today at Halloween, decorating our homes with plastic skeletons or dressing up as the undead.

It seems that in some aspects, the medieval art of death is as relevant today as it was to people almost 700 years ago.

For funeral notices in your area visit funeral-notices.co.uk


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World's deadliest bird with dagger-like toe was 'raised by humans 18,000 years ago'

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World's deadliest bird with dagger-like toe was 'raised by humans 18,000 years ago'

A dangerous wild creature commonly regarded to be the deadliest bird in the world was in fact one of the first to be raised by humans 18,000 years ago, new evidence shows.

In a new report, Kristina Douglass, an assistant professor at Penn State University in the United States, said that tell-tale signs in fossils from the cassowary bird suggest that humans had collected them at birth and then raised them to hatch.

This was possibly to harvest them for their meat or feathers.

The researcher said in a statement: “This behaviour that we are seeing is coming thousands of years before domestication of the chicken”

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0 Southern Cassowary
The researcher said: “this is not some small fowl, it is a huge… flightless bird that can eviscerate you”

“And this is not some small fowl, it is a huge… flightless bird that can eviscerate you”

Taking newly hatched eggs from the cassowary, native to Australia and Papa New Guinea, would not have been easy —its thick, sharp dagger-like toe makes it a powerful bird capable of killing much larger animals, including humans.

In 2019, an owner of exotic pets in Florida was killed by his cassowary after he fell over in his back garden.



An owner of exotic pets in Florida was killed by his cassowary after he fell over in his back garden
An owner of exotic pets in Florida was killed by his cassowary after he fell over in his back garden

The curious creature also likes to change where they nest every year.

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But the way the cassowary often seems to become attached to the first thing it sees when it hatches as a chick, a phenomenon called ‘imprinting’ by biologists, would mean that once early humans had the young birds it could have been quite easy to raise them to full adulthood.

Talking to CNN, Ms Douglass offered that they probably caught the cassowaries at a time when they were particularly vulnerable, saying: “People may have hunted the male and then collected the eggs. Because males don’t leave the nest unattended they also don’t feed much during the incubation period, making them more vulnerable to predators.”

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Cassowary eggs are a delicacy in Papa New Guinea
Cassowary eggs are a delicacy in Papa New Guinea

Cassowaries are still raised today in Papa New Guinea for their feathers, and their eggs are considered a national delicacy.

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Loch Ness Monster experts slam new 'sighting' as 'hoax' 24 hours after clip goes viral

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Sightings of the mysterious Loch Ness Monster date back almost 100 years

Loch Ness Monster experts have slammed the most recent ‘sighting’ of the infamous beast as nothing but a hoax, to hopeful believer’s dismay.

A YouTuber recently claimed he had caught a sinister figure near the banks of the loch on camera during a trip to the Scottish Highlands.

54-year-old Richard Mavor, who runs the YouTube channel Richard Outdoors, was shooting an aerial video with his 4k drone when he later realised he had caught the creature on film.

But just a few days after sharing his ‘sighting,’ critics and non-believers slammed the video as ‘fake’ and ‘another hoax’.

Steve Feltham, a self-proclaimed Loch Ness Monster expert, says he was sent the footage and had a team of experts pull the footage apart.

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Sightings of the mysterious Loch Ness Monster date back almost 100 years
Sightings of the mysterious Loch Ness Monster date back almost 100 years

He claimed that he has spent hours flying low over the loch and had never been able to see anything as clearly as the figure shown in the video.

Speaking to LADbible, Steve said: “Hoax. No question about it. I would expect a confession along the lines of, ‘Fair cop, it was just for a laugh, it was for charity, etc.’, any time soon.”

The expert claimed that the ‘fake sighting’ was debunked in less than twenty-four hours.

Steve said that Mavor had duplicated a bit of the film to give “us a perfect ‘before and after’ shot.”

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He continued: “Unfortunately for him, we now had two versions of the same part of the film, one with his ‘Nessie’ in it and one without. Impossible.



Loch ness
Loch Ness monster sighting reported from China


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“Soon after, someone else found an image online of a Plesiosaur that matched the look, colour and shape of creature in Mavor’s film exactly.

“Quite simply Mavor had overlaid some film of this Nessie image onto his drone shot sequence.”

Sightings of the mysterious Loch Ness Monster date back almost 100 years and experts claim they’re no closer to finding ‘the truth’.

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The dreaded creature is popularly described as long-necked and large, with one or more humps showing from the water.

For Steve Feltham, the search for the monster he became obsessed with as a boy continues, as another exciting sighting is debunked.


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Missing time and false teeth riddle – strange tale of first couple ‘abducted by aliens’

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When the Hills got home, Betty realised her dress was torn

Abductions by strange unearthly beings have been reported throughout history. But it was the 1961 experience of Barney and Betty Hill that first connected the experience with invaders from another world.

The couple had been driving along a country road in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

They seemed to have the road to themselves, they said, except for a strange light that appeared to be following them down the winding road.

At first, they didn’t know what had happened to them – they reported a chunk of “missing time”. Their clothes were inexplicably dirty and torn and both of their watches had stopped working.



When the Hills got home, Betty realised her dress was torn
When the Hills got home, Betty realised her dress was torn

Later, memories recovered by hypnosis revealed a strange tale of being taken up into a disc-shaped craft as wide, Betty said, “as her house was long” where aliens examined them before erasing their memories.

Sceptics have have identified numerous flaws in the Hills’ stories, and noted that their story shares some telling details with the 1953 film Invaders from Mars and an episode of the Outer limits broadcast after the abduction, but before the hypnotic regression that uncovered many of its most sensational details.

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But under hypnosis, Betty and Barney told remarkably similar stories, suggesting that something strange happened – whether an abduction or something else – to them on that fateful September night 60 years ago this year.

The visitors, recalled Betty, were baffled by her husband’s dentures and didn’t appear to be familiar with the idea.



The couple's memories of the experience were blank until they came to, around two hours later and 35 miles down the road
The couple’s memories of the experience were blank until they came to, around two hours later and 35 miles down the road

Since then thousands have claimed that while sleeping – or sometimes while driving in a remote area – they have been taken up into spacecraft and experimented on. Some say they have been given important messages about the future of mankind.

Barney’s description of the aliens; short and grey-skinned with large eyes, has over time become the most popular conception of extraterrestrial visitors – although other abductees have reported “robot-like beings” or “hairy dwarves” and in one memorable case beautiful humanoid women with “cherry-red pubic hair”.

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Betty claimed to have been shown a star map revealing that the visitors had come from a distant binary star system known as Zeta Reticuli.

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The couple's description of their abductor changed slightly over time
The couple’s description of their abductor changed slightly over time

As yet no planets have been definitively observed orbiting the two Sun-like stars in the Zeta Reticuli system, although a disc of material, possibly an asteroid belt, appears to have formed around one of them.

It was only in March 1963, nearly two years after the incident, that the Hills first publicly discussed their encounter with travellers from that twin star system just over 39 light-years from Earth .

Boston-based hypnotist Benjamin Simon first interviewed the couple in early 1964.



Barney described a 'flying saucer' with red lights on its sides
Barney described a ‘flying saucer’ with red lights on its sides

Under hypnosis, Barney recalled the aliens communicating with him by some form of telepathy.

“Oh, those eyes. They’re there in my brain,” he said.

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He later told Simon: “I was told to close my eyes because I saw two eyes coming close to mine, and I felt like the eyes had pushed into my eyes.

“All I see are these eyes…. I’m not even afraid that they’re not connected to a body. They’re just there. They’re just up close to me, pressing against my eyes.”

He described having a “cup” placed over his genitals and a sperm sample being taken. He also recalled an anal probe and said the aliens scraped his skin in a procedure that might now be described as a DNA sample.

The aliens inserted a long needle into Betty’s navel, telling her it was a pregnancy test.



Betty and Barney told how aliens removed their clothes, and took samples of their skin, hair and fingernails
Betty and Barney told how aliens removed their clothes, and took samples of their skin, hair and fingernails

The couple’s experiences set the tone for thousands of similar reports.

In 1975, US TV network NBC broadcast a TV movie based on Betty and Barneys experience called The UFO Incident. In the following two years reports of alien abductions soared by some 2,500%.

The Hills avoided publicity, for the most part, after their experience became public knowledge.

Barney Hill died of a cerebral haemorrhage on February 25, 1969, aged just 46. Betty Hill lived on until the ripe old age of 85, becoming quite a celebrity among the UFO community.

Explanations for the phenomenon range from flashbacks to childhood tonsil surgery to lucid dreaming.

Michael Raduga, a researcher with the Phase Research Centre in Moscow, says “abductions are real”>

He believes that the people that experience them, “they just don’t know how to explain it.”


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Mum thinks aliens are invading after photo of 'UFO' that turns out to be NASA satellite

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The spooked mum-of-two feared aliens were invading

A spooked mum-of-two feared aliens were invading when she photographed a huge UFO in the sky – which turned out to be a NASA rocket.

Jayne Dickinson, 47, had travelled to Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland to snap the Northern Lights when she spotted the bizarre aircraft overhead.

Dramatic pictures show the angel-shaped rocket soaring across the night sky at 10.30pm on Monday.

The postie, from Linton, Morpeth, Northumberland, said: “I’d gone in search of the Northern Lights but I couldn’t see any.

“I was walking back to my car when I suddenly saw this incredibly bright shape soaring up in the sky.



The spooked mum-of-two feared aliens were invading
The spooked mum-of-two feared aliens were invading

“It was amazing and grabbed my camera and started taking pictures of it. I must admit I thought the aliens were landing.

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“The shape of it was like an angel and it was bright white.

“As soon as I got home I checked what it could have been and realised it was the NASA Landsat-9 satellite which had launched in California.

“It was a pretty great feeling to see it from the other side of the world.”



She had travelled to Northumberland to snap the Northern Lights
She had travelled to Northumberland to snap the Northern Lights

Elsewhere in the UK, stargazers have claimed a massive cone-shaped ” UFO ” was spotted hovering in the sky above a Brit city.

Residents in Hull and East Yorkshire claimed to have witnessed the same aerial phenomenon on Monday night (September 27), which happened to be the launch night of Atlas V rocket at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

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The Atlas V rocket carried NASA’s most powerful Earth-imaging satellite, Landsat 9, to a sun-synchronous orbit to allow scientists to accurately compare two images at different times and track changes over time.

From what the stunned locals recorded, the footage shows a clear bright object with a conical shape.

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The UFO hangs above the sky for a short while and begins to move in a linear projectile.

Baffled locals told Hull Live : “It was a huge white triangle in the sky no noise at all, no planes showing up on the flight tracker.

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“It has to be something in orbit but was something I’ve never seen before, and to say how high it was the projected light must have been miles wide.”


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Curious Golden Retriever can't stop snooping on neighbours through fence hole

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Phoenix the golden retriever looking through her garden peephole

A curious Golden Retriever has been branded a nosey neighbour after taking advantage of a fence peep hole to keep an eye on proceedings.

The beautiful dog, called Phoenix, or PhiPhi for short, has gone viral after footage captured the dog snooping on the Samoyed next door.

The busybody pooch can’t stop staring through a tiny hole in the wooden fence to check what the other dog, called Bentley, is up to.

In a video posted to the TikTok account @phiphi_goldenretriever, PhiPhi, from Melbourne, Australia, smiles at her owner before returning to look through her fence hole, with the overlaying caption that reads: “I love spying on my bestie next door.”

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PhiPhi’s owner then points the camera through the gap to reveal what she found so interesting.



Phoenix the golden retriever looking through her garden peephole
Phoenix the Golden Retriever looking through her garden peephole

The video has proved extremely popular, with PhiPhi’s owner promising a “bestie reveal” soon, allowing their followers to meet Bentley close up.

Viewers were also telling the TikToker to make the hole bigger so the dogs can see each other better.

One said: “Maybe the peep hole could be larger for a better view!”

Another suggested adding “another eye hole”.

One follower even joked the spy dog could be the next James Bond, writing: “I can’t wait to see more of James Bond the dog, haha #spydog.”

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Mysterious ‘flashing lights’ spotted on moon spark conspiracy meltdown

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The video appears to show flashing lights on the moon's surface

Space buffs are analysing footage that appears to show bright flashing lights on the surface of the moon.

The video was posted on YouTube earlier this month by UFO Institute, and it immediately caught the attention of sky-watchers and conspiracy theorists.

The footage, which is nearly five minutes long and was filmed on September 2 by Ruben Ariza from Colombia, shows several lights repeatedly flashing.

The video has now been reviewed by Tyler Glockner of Secureteam10, who has more than two million YouTube subscribers.

He is not yet fully convinced of its authenticity, but he believes it is worth exploring further.

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The video appears to show flashing lights on the moon's surface
The video appears to show flashing lights on the moon’s surface

“When I first saw this on my cell phone when it popped up, I thought it was an immediate fake – almost like someone had just placed a still image of the moon in a video editor, made it to slowly move from right to left across the screen and added in these flashing lights,” he said.

“Because I was, like, ‘Where’s the movement? Where is the atmosphere distortion that you always get when recording the moon from a telescope?’



The video has grabbed the attention of conspiracy theorists
The video has grabbed the attention of conspiracy theorists

“But then when I played it on full screen there is indeed what appears to be some atmospheric wobble there, so that definitely piqued my interest.”

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Tyler added: “This is very clear and crisp footage of the moon. I’m not totally sold. What would sell [it to] me is if we had some corroborating footage of the exact same thing. There’s got to be another moon-watcher out there who caught this.



Conspiracies have abounded about the moon for years
Conspiracies have abounded about the moon for years

“If this is indeed authentic, just Wow! If it’s not, it’s just another one we can rule out, but we know there have been thousands of legitimate sightings and captures of strange things happening on the moon and above it.”

Comments made underneath Ruben’s original video included: “Looks like a whole damn civilisation.” Another said: “There’s ships or structures in those craters by the looks of it”.

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But another commentator – perhaps more realistically – said: “You know, those lights are awfully close to the Apollo 11 landing position. It’s possible that it’s just some debris reflecting light from the sun.”

Keep up to date with all the latest weird and wonderful goings-on in the universe by signing up to Daily Star’s brand new Spaced Out newsletter.


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