Monday, March 12, 2018

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas is a 1904 ghost story by M.R. James. Wikipedia has this synopsis: "The tale tells the story of Rev. Justin Somerton, a scholar of Medieval history, who tells a rector the frightening tale of how, while searching an abbey library, he found clues leading him to the hidden treasure of a disgraced abbot."

It begins,

'Verum usque in prsæsentem diem multa garriunt inter se Canonici
de abscondito quodam istius Abbatis Thomæ thesauro, quem sæpe,
quanquam adhuc incassum quæsiverunt Steinfeldenses. Ipsum enim
Thomam adhuc florida in ætate existentem ingentem auri massam
cira monasterium defodisse perhibent; de quo multoties
interrogatus ubi esset, cum risu respondere solitus erat: "Job,
Johannes, et Zacharias vel vobis vel posteris indicabunt"; idemque
aliquando adiicere se inventuris minime invisurum. Inter alia huius
Abbatis opera, hoc memoria præcipue dignum iudico quod fenestram
magnam in orientali parte alæ australis in ecclesia sua imaginibus
optime in vitro depictis impleverit: id quod et ipsius effigies et
insignia ibidem posita demonstrant. Domum quoque Abbatialem fere
totam restauravit; puteo in atrio ipsius effosso et lapidibus
marmoreis pulchre cælatis exornato. Decessit autem, morte
aliquantulum subitanea perculsus, ætatis suæ anno Ixxiido,
incarnationis vera Dominiæ mdxxixo.'

'I suppose I shall have to translate this,' said the antiquary to himself, as he finished copying the above lines from that rather rare and exceedingly diffuse book, the 'Sertum Steinfeldense Norbertinum. 'Well, it as well be done first as last,' and accordingly the following rendering was very quickly produced:

'Up to the present day there is much among the Canons about a
certain hidden treasure of this Abbot Thomas, for which those of Steinfeld
have often made search, though hitherto in vain. The story is that Thomas,
while yet in the vigour of life, concealed a very large quantity of gold
somewhere in the monastery. He was often asked where it was, and always
answered, with a laugh: "Job, John, and Zechariah will tell either you or
your successors." He sometimes added that he should feel no grudge
against those who might find it. Among other works carried out by this
Abbot I may specially mention his filling the great window at the east end
of the south aisle of the church with figures admirably painted on glass, as
his effigy and arms in the window attest. He also restored almost the
whole of the Abbot's lodging, and dug a well in the court of it, which he
adorned with beautiful carvings in marble. He died rather suddenly in the
seventy-second year of his age, a.d. 1529.'

The object which the antiquary had before him at the moment was that of tracing the whereabouts of the painted windows of the Abbey Church of Steinfeld. Shortly after the Revolution, a very large quantity of painted glass had made its way from the dissolved abbeys of Germany and Belgium to this country, and may now be seen adorning various of our parish churches, cathedrals, and private chapels. Steinfeld Abbey was among the most considerable of these involuntary contributors to our artistic possessions (I am quoting the somewhat ponderous preamble of the book which the antiquary wrote), and the greater part of the glass from that institution can be identified without much difficulty by the help, either of the numerous inscriptions in which the place is mentioned, or of the subjects of the windows, in which several well-defined cycles or narratives were represented.

The passage with which I began my story had set the antiquary on the track of another identification. In a private chapel —no matter where— he had seen three large figures, each occupying a whole light in a window, and evidently the work of one artist. Their style made it plain that that artist had been a German of the sixteenth century; but hitherto the more exact localizing of them had been a puzzle. They represented —will you be surprised to hear it?— Job Patriarcha, Johannes Evangelista, Zacharias Propheta, and each of them held a book or scroll, inscribed with a sentence from his writings. These, as a matter of course, the antiquary had noted, and had been struck by the curious way in which they differed from any text of the Vulgate that he had been able to examine.
You can read it online here. It was adapted for television in 1974:


  1. Thanks for the links! Sound's great!

    1. I hope you like it. I like the old-style stories that tend more towards "creepy" and "eerie" and don't have the gore so common in modern stories.

  2. I have never heard of this story or author. You always find the most interesting stories and movies. :) We redboxed Thor III last night and I agree with you-I liked it. Thanks for the post to let me know it was available to redbox. Hugs-Erika

    1. This author is a good one if you like this kind of thing. He wrote many stories and is known for ghost stories and "weird tales". I'm glad you liked Thor. We are glad these superhero movies are still going so well. :)

  3. I have never heard of this, but I'm not much for horror. This is one I will listen to as I clean my office, though. Thanks for the link.

    1. I hope you like it. The old horror is a completely different thing than the new horror.