The idea: I started this four years ago about the time I began my dissertation which was, of course, on the architectural development of Tintern Abbey over its incredible 500 year history. It came about really as the result of two separate things. The first was a desire to write a Christmas ghost story. The second was an attempt to formulate how Tintern might have looked, and how it might have flowed, in the early part of the 14th century. This period saw a redevelopment of the complex which included the building of an immense new church.
Development: Initially, I did not want it to be spooky. My intention was for it to be quite unconventional as far as ghost stories were concerned so I trawled through some academic books on legends from ancient Greece without much jumping out at me as being where I wanted to take the story. I eventually settled on the idea of the ghost as a harbinger and in a way that still features in the final product. Once I began writing in this direction, I hoped the idea would come to me but it never did and the story came to a grinding halt, though in this time I knew how it would finish.
What changed?: Initially the Abbot could see the man (something that would not become apparent until later was that only Edmund and the Abbot could see him) and the story developed in a way that hinted of a calamity to come. This included a couple of shared visions of 18 months hence of villagers asking the Abbot for help in combating the disease and another of a mob at the gates of the abbey.
This is more or less where it ground to a halt and I backtracked and sacrificed everything after Edmund realising the bundle of rags was a man. It was a lot to take out but it simplified the story. It can be daunting at first to cut out great swathes, but you get used to not being sentimental about what you have written.
Imagery and symbolism: Most of my writing has an element of the symbolic and I’m hoping that it is obvious in Angel’s Mass.
The man is one of the biblical Horsemen of the Apocalypse, revealed at the end to be “Pestilence” and he arrived at the Abbey as a harbinger of the arrival of the most cataclysmic disease ever to hit the human race.
The disease is The Black Death.
Rebirth is the common theme here. Many of the pre-Christian traditions surrounding the Winter Solstice is about looking forward to spring. We bring colour and light into our homes at the coldest and darkest time of the year because from here on, the hours of daylight get longer.
The other rebirth in the story is foreshadowing the calamity of The Black Death that would not only kill such a substantial portion of the human race, but would lead to the collapse of the feudal system.
Crossing the Bosporus which today separates Europe from Asia is the symbolic act of The Black Death crossing into Europe and starting the symbolic rebirth on Christmas Eve. We do not know whether it entered Europe this way, nor whether it entered at Christmas Eve. We do know that it entered Europe in late 1347, and its likely route was the Silk Road. This narrative showing the disease crossing the Bosporus is a symbolic event.
Tintern Abbey Church