The Vision of Thurkill
It has been suggested that Osbert fitz Hervey, the first known ancestor of the de
Dagworths, was the justiciar who features in the Vision of Thurkill. The manuscript
of the Vision is in the British Library, and a transcript was published by H. L. D.
Ward, 'The Vision of Thurkill, probably by Ralph of Coggeshall', Journal of the
British Archaeological Association, xxxi, 1875.
The following excerpts describe the Vision, from Paul Gerhard Schmidt “The Vision
of Thurkill” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes , Vol. 41, (1978), pp.
On the evening of 27 October 1206 the peasant Thurkill is out in the fields digging
ditches to drain the water from the flooded field which he has just sown, when a
stranger approaches him and, revealing himself to be St. Julian, tells him that he
will take him away on a journey the following night. Thurkill goes back home to
Stisted, a small village which lies about twelve miles west of Colchester, and exactly
halfway between Braintree and Coggeshall. On the Friday evening, in order to be
properly prepared for the journey, Thurkill washes himself thoroughly from head to
foot, much to the annoyance of his wife, to whom he says nothing of his visitation.
That night St. Julian arrives as planned and takes the soul of Thurkill away with
him. His body stays behind, rigid and motionless, scarcely breathing, in his bed.
During the next two days his relatives try to waken the body out of this state of
unconsciousness. On the Sunday evening, as they try to give him water by force,
he suddenly comes to and speaks the word 'Benedicite' which he had never done
before, and complains at the premature interruption of his journey through the
Other World. He tells his relatives and the village priest something of the
revelations which have been granted to him during his two-day trance, but in a
disjointed and garbled fashion, and with large omissions. Because of this he has
only partly fulfilled the obligation which was imposed on him; and on the night of the
31 October St. Julian appears to him again and, threatening him with severe
punishment, instructs him to deliver an ordered and complete account of his vision
on the following feast day in Stisted Church, without regard for the persons
implicated, irrespective of who they might be. On 1 and 2 November, All Souls' Day
and All Saints' Day, Thurkill obeys the saint's command. He presents his vision
vividly and coherently in the presence of the community and of the 'dominus villae',
Osbert de Longchamps. This is the cause of much wonderment in view of his usual
awkwardness and lack of eloquence. As he had been instructed, he confesses in
the presence of the community that he has not paid a full tenth of his harvest as
tithes; he describes the punishment which he suffered for this deception in the
Other World. He gives all those who are gathered in the church information about
the fate of their deceased relatives in the after-life, and in each case he gives the
number of prayers and masses which are still needed before they can be granted
eternal peace. His description is moving and disquieting for the listeners; as a
result he is invited to tell of his vision in other churches and monasteries.
Thurkill's account has come down to us in several redactions. The fullest version
divides the text into three sections: the anonymous redactor's preface, followed by
the story of the external circumstances of the vision, and finally the main part, the
vision itself. The preface also provides the theological framework: Thurkill's
account is taken in an eschatological sense as a testimony and a warning,
comparable to the words of the prophets and evangelists. The redactor is firmly
convinced of the credibility of such an edifying document; on the other hand he is
honest enough to admit that Thurkill's vision has been received with scepticism by
some. … Thurkill's redactor did not wish his text to be cancelled or tampered with in
any way, and for this reason he stresses in his preface the purity and 'simplicitas'
of Thurkill as a guarantee of the truth of the vision. Doubters are placed in a
category close to that of those who refuse to believe in Christ. He describes his
own role as follows: to put down in a simple language the story told by the simple
Thurkill, exactly as he heard it from him.