Friday, 1 April 2011

The vision in Fotheringhay church

There is a fascinating - and now quite famous - story in Colin Wilson's wonderful book Mysteries, about a woman who was able to peek beyond the current "veil" of Time. And the cause of this seems to have been the shock provoked by an accident.

She was Jane O'Neill, an English school-teacher, who had been rattled by the sight of a traffic accident, after which she took some time off work to regain her spirits.

It was during this period of convalescence that she and the friend with whom she was staying visited a church in Fotheringhay (or Fotheringay, which appears to be more correct), the village famous for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1587 (although I remain unconvinced that this gruesome historical fact absolutely must have something to do with what follows).

Jane took great interest in the church, taking in all the sights.
After she and her friend returned to the hotel where they were staying, the friend went on to read (aloud) some more about the church from a guide book.
It was then that this odd story really began. Apparently Jane and her friend, while they had been in the same church, had not seen the same church...

Here's how it all started, in Jane's own words (with a few minor omissions):

In October 1973 I was the first person to arrive at a serious accident; a car had driven head-on into a coach behind which I was travelling. I pulled the passengers from the wreck, waiting with them till the ambulances arrived. Afterwards, with my hands covered with blood, I drove to London Airport to pick up a friend.

Driving home later that night I began to 'see' all over again the dreadful injuries of the passengers. They continued for days. I am usually a very sound sleeper, but I now found I could not sleep at all. The doctor said I was suffering from shock. I was away from school for five days. A fellow teacher invited me for the half-term holiday to her cottage in Norfolk, where several inexplicable things happened. I would be sitting in her living room and would suddenly see very clearly before me a vivid picture. It would last a couple of seconds. (...) I do not remember the sequence of these sights, but I remember them very clearly. After one I told Shirley: "I have just seen you in the galleys." As I hardly knew her I was astonished when she replied. "That's not surprising. My ancestors were Huguenots and were punished by being sent to the galleys".

Two months after the accident Jane and her friend visited Fotheringhay church.

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Jane spent some time admiring a picture of the Crucifixion, which was arched at the top, with a dove painted in the middle of the arch. Later, in their hotel, the friend read aloud passages from an essay where it said that infinity is sometimes symbolised by a straight line meeting in arch. Jane remarked that the description sounded similar to the arch on the picture they had seen in the church.

As it turned out, the friend had seen no such picture. Jane decided to phone the vicar to ask him about the picture. She was told - by the postmistress - that the village had no vicar, but the postmistress apparently knew the church as the back of her hand, because she arranged flowers there every Sunday. And the postmistress had seen no such painting either. There was, however, a panel with a painted dove behind the altar.

Two years later Jane and Shirley revisited the church in Fotheringhay. The exterior was as Jane remembered it; but the interior, says she, was such that she had "no recollection at all of having been inside that church. It was much smaller than the one I had been and there was no crucifixion. The dove - to my amazement - was not the one I had seen; this one is in a cloud, and its wings are outstretched, not curved."

Naturally, Jane was much intrigued by these events, and started reading about Fotheringhay church. In Joan Forman's book Haunted East Anglia she discovered that there had been reports of people hearing music coming from inside that same church when it was empty of people.

Eventually, Jane received a written confirmation of what she had seen - or thought she had seen. A historian, Tom Litchfield, described to her in a letter the history of the building. The present church was only a part - a nave - of the original building; the rest had been pulled down in 1533. And a print from 1821, depicting the interior of the church, showed arched panels joined by a painting with a dove with outstretched wings.

In short, what Jane O'Neill had seen seemed to correspond exactly to the appearance of the church as it once was.

This phenomenon is called retrocognition - literally "back-knowledge".
But what causes it?

In his book Mysteries, which should be essential reading for anyone interested in this sort of experience, Colin Wilson surmises (p. 364) that the key to this experience was the shock that Jane suffered when confronted with the horror of the traffic accident. It blew open something - some "channel" in her - that had been clogged up until then.
However, it is important to note that at the time of the "vision" itself Jane was probably quite relaxed. In fact, based on my own experienceI would go as far as to posit that a state of relaxed un-thinking only is conducive to visions (or in my case, auditory "precognition") - when it follows a strain of some sort.
Then again, there are cases when no strain at all seems to have been involved.

The conditions leading to the opening of such "channels" seem to be just as individual as everything else.
Still, there appear to be certain identifiable "markers" of Time's undoing.
More on that in a future post.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy
The Ultimate Tourist
The Hills are Alive
If these walls could sing

If you want to report a perceived dimensional anomaly, please do, but read this first.

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