Sunday, 8 July 2007

The Strange Beasts on Bishop Bell's Tomb

While reminiscing on Old King Canute's bones recently, I was reminded of another saintly old codger who stirred up a mess of trouble with his tomb. This one is situated in that normally uninteresting town of Carlisle. If you find your way to the city's great cathedral and walk up the central aisle, you will find the elegant tomb of Bishop Richard Bell.

Like many tombs of its age this one has splendid brass work and would make a good subject for brass-rubbing enthusiasts. The brass strips are pleasantly decorated with all manner of animals, some easily recognizable and some not. And it is one of the unrecognized animals that has caused all the consternation up there in Carlisle.

Along one of the brass strips, if you look carefully, you can see two animals. The one on the left is obscured by the one on the right that looks suspiciously pre-historic. It clearly has a long tail, an even longer neck and head. With a neck like that we might have been tempted to think giraffe if it were not for the four thick-set legs and large rounded body. It is for us, of course, a classic image that every school child would immediately recognize. However the one animal that it cannot possibly be is a dinosaur. That of course is quite impossible.

Dinosaurs as we all know were not discovered until 1840 and this tomb was constructed in 1496. No one even knew that there were dinosaurs 500 years ago, never mind what they looked like. So it can not be a dinosaur. QED. However, as if to tease us a little further, there are other similar pictures of "dinosaur-like-creatures" along the brass strips of Bishop Bell's tomb for us to contemplate - as if to say that this was no slip of the engravers tool.

I would suggest that you go up to Carlisle Cathedral someday when you are passing and have a look for yourself. Unfortunately that is not so easy these days as the whole thing is covered with a thick carpet apparently to avoid wear and tear. Those who have tried lifting the carpet to get a peek at the strange engravings have been met with a stern rebuke by the Verger who is not at all keen for these brasses to be displayed. If you want to see them you will have to get permission in writing - something not so easy to do it seems, as the Dean does not condone the 'telling of the tale of dinosaurs' on one of his tombs. He has made it clear that the very suggestion of dinosaurs on the tomb discredits the cathedral. It is not a dinosaur, then - the dean has said so. So that's an end of the matter.

Of courses this is not the first time that inconvenient things have been hidden under the carpet. Take for example another ancient picture - The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina. This is considered one the wonders of the second century, and it depicts scenes from the Nile in Egypt all the way to Ethiopia. The whole work is remarkable and if you want to see the full picture you can catch it here. At the top right there is a depiction of African animals hunted by warriors. They are pursuing what appears to be some type of large creature - in any case it is certainly larger than they are. This too is not a dinosaur. We know this for certain because the picture tells us what the strange creature is. The Greek letters above the reptilian animal spell out the word: KROKODILOPARDALIS which is literally Crocodile-Leopard.

Exactly what a crocodile-leopard is, no one knows. What we do know, is that it is not a dinosaur. We do however have a picture of one, and if that picture strikes an amazing similarity with a dinosaur then that is pure coincidence. Other pictures on the mosaic are standard stuff like crocodiles and hippos. This is the only one that we can't place, and I would guess that those who put the mosaic together couldn't place it either. It's likely they just didn't have a word for it, so stuck two words together to capture it for our imagination. Just why they should choose crocodile and leopard is the question, unless it reminded them of a dangerous fast moving reptile. But we will never know as the crocodile-leopard has evaded all efforts of capture.

It is said that Alexander the Great once asked Diogenes what the most cunning of animals was. His reply was, "The one you haven't seen yet." Yet more cunning is the animal you can't even believe in. Charles Fort had a name for such data as this. He called them "The Damned" as they were damned to obscurity by a scientific community that had no room or no explanation for such things.

If you brush things under the carpet you just have to hope that they go away.


beachhutman said...

Beyond the Camp Fire, approaching the grave.

Diogenes, wary of rogues and scoundrels, was right to call the most cunning of animals "the one you haven't seen yet".

In the Panopticon prison inmates never knew if they were being watched.
When it comes to making us all behave I think the "Panopticon" takes some beating as an early form of mind control or meme.

See to remind yourself of this marvel of social engineering.

My teenage years spent mostly between the local public house and the family beach hut were spent under the sometimes real but often imagined gaze of Police Constable Mike Jacob.

He was an honest man who, when we spoke, warned me of the dangers of, for example, cycling without lights through the woods at night.

But he would hide in the bushes (sometimes I discovered with PC Jack Kynaston) looking, he said, for poachers or boat thieves.

With rare exceptions I never knew whether he was there or not as I walked or cycled past his hidden observation points.

I have written more at

I have decided to found a company called Panopticon Security on my and their old stamping ground. But probably for the wrong reasons.

The most cunning part will be that I will be paid to park what will be for me a beach hut (on wheels - namely a comfortable camper van disguised as a CCTV van) - on the beach and do nothing all day and rest afterwards.

The best security is invisible security. The most cunning policeman is a secret policeman. The apotheosis of this is the policeman who is not even there.

Years ago I watched awestruck as a Minister of State, Keith Joseph strode to his waiting car. Not because of the persona of a VIP outside my library but because an officer had concealed himself cunningly above the scene, invisible to ground level. I could only see the secret policeman because I was hidden above him, taking a "cigarette break" (it would have been called that then if I had smoked).

Any egg throwing student would not have known what hit him. Anyone lucky enough to see this deus ex machina from above would likely never suffer the indignity of being caught for the simple reason they would know the risk of being caught if that sort of thing was going on exceeded any potential reward for deviance.

The best policemen, secret agents, conmen. hypnotists and thieves are never recognised or known. Well. only to a few.

I have met a few, often ex military types where it really is survival of the fittest...but they are rare beasts in a world of so much else artifice and deception.

And verification or confirmation of what you may be told is often wanting. Sometimes the only clue as to how cunning they are, can be or have been is how loudly you can make them laugh...without really knowing why. I realy made a private investigator (ex Kroll) laugh at one conference, and I still do not know why.

Covert means of control have to remain hidden, so society needs to create a general anxiety that will do the same thing without giving the game away.
here see the work of Edward Bernays see the video at:

But I have met too many rogues and scoundrels who use their cunning not to achieve anything, but to achieve nothing. A waste of good deception.

When I was being trained in advertising we were told people do things for profit, for prestige, to beat any competition or to achieve continuity.

Why would artists or sculptors try to represent monstrous animals in their art?

Because artists, like secret policemen, are in the business of artifice and deception. They may not know this, because that is the nature of the beast...any beast will do. The power of the mind to come up with suitable motifs is practically without limit, and borrows from everywhere and nowhere.

For example the Minotaur was a cunning invention of our predecessors which was designed to scare us and keep us all in order.

Oh, and please ignore all the psychobabble about monsters Edward Bernay's uncle Sigmund Freud might try out on you, it is a happy hunting ground for all sorts of cunning devils selling their own competing interpretations with other memes like this cynical comment.

Monsters are a legacy of some distant parent or politician who found telling tales around the campfire bound us all together in a common culture ( fortunately at the expense of no-one else if the danger was imaginary) but at the cost of our eternal credulity beyond the safety of the camp-fire.

If like Diogenes, you can see past this ploy, you can be a free man...
...just take advice from honest men next time you venture beyond your own orbit. It is dangerous out there.


Philip said...

It has been suggested by some that we all live in one great panopticon and and the world itself is constructed for that very purpose.

Jeremy Bentham, the founding father of my old college - more about him and his autoikon at a later date - was the originator of the term panopticon. A pleasure house for voyeurs it enabled everyone to be observed without knowing they were being observed. This theme (or some might say meme) has surfaced many times in literature, from the biblical days of an omniscient God to the film Matrix - where the whole of life takes place inside a software panopticon.

My favourite, and in my opinion the most likely scenario, is that of Douglas Adams who in So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, claims the world is one big laboratory run by pan-dimensional beings that take the form of white mice. The purpose of the great experiment was to find out the meaning of life.

The conclusion is the same. If, following Diogenes and Tim you can see past it all, you can be a free man - either that or the answer is 42.