“The Treasure of Abbot Thomas” is a horror story by the English medievalist and author M. R. James (1862–1936). Set in 1859, and told as a third-person narrative, it was first published in his Ghost Stories of an AntiquaryCollection of eight short stories by the English medievalist and author M. R. James, first published in 1904. (1904).
The background to the story is that in the wake of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation in Belgium and Germany, a large quantity of the painted glass in the dissolved abbeys made its way to England, and can be found in various private chapels and churches.
The story begins as Mr. Somerton, an antiquarian and man of leisure, is examining a Latin text from the Sertum Steinfeldense Norbertinum,[a]In his introduction to the Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, James states that “there never was, naturally, any such book as that which I quote in “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas”. in the hope of discovering the whereabouts of the painted windows of the Abbey Church of Steinfeld, in Germany. It is well-known that the abbot of Steinfeld, Thomas von Eschenhausen, had hidden an as yet undiscovered treasure somewhere in the monastery, but refused to say where, and when asked answered only “Job, John, and Zechariah will tell either you or your successors”. Thomas had died in 1529 without revealing his secret.
Somerton tracks down one of the windows, containing images of Job, John, and Zechariah, to a private chapel. He is given permission by the owner, identified only as Lord D——, to examine the window, and on attempting to clean the glass discovers a coded inscription, obscured by a black pigment. Somerton succeeds in decoding the inscription as:
Ten thousand pieces of gold are laid up in the well in the court of the Abbot’s house of Steinfeld by me, Thomas, who have set a guardian over them. Gare à qui la touche.
Somerton and his man servant William Brown set out for the abbey church of Steinfeld. A few days later Somerton’s friend Mr Gregory, the Rector of Parsbury, receives a letter from Brown begging him to come and visit his master, who has taken to his bed. Greatly relieved to see his friend, Somerton asks him to put something back for him the next morning, without explaining what or why, which with Brown’s guidance Gregory succeeds in doing. On their return, Somerton explains that having discovered the treasure’s hiding place in the well some days earlier, and removing the slab that concealed it, he had reached into the hole and started to pull out what felt like one of a number of leather bags.
As Somerton hauled on the bag, he had become conscious of a “cold kind of face pressed against my own … and of several – I don’t know how many – legs or arms or tentacles or something clinging to my body”. He managed to escape the creature’s grasp, and Brown was able to pull him out of the well, but ever since he has been conscious of a presence or presences, watching outside his door. Believing them to be “creatures of darkness”, Somerton had asked Gregory to go down the well during daylight and replace the slab which had sealed the hole containing the treasure, in the hope that would render the creatures powerless.
“The Treasure of Abbot Thomas” has been adapted for television as an episode of the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas series starring Michael Bryant as Somerton, broadcast in 1974.
- M. R. James bibliographyList of the works written by M. R. James.
|In his introduction to the Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, James states that “there never was, naturally, any such book as that which I quote in “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas”.
- Full text of “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas” at Project Gutenberg