The Priory of St. Anthony had appeared unannounced and unnoticed at first in the old three story house on Dublin’s North Circular Road. From the outside, the house looked like any other, but it was what went on inside that attracted the interest of the Gardaí, not to mention the concerned families and friends of those who counted themselves amongst the believers within. As it unfolded, their concerns were justified, and the true horror of what was to transpire is still difficult for those who hadn’t had experience of it first hand to comprehend, let alone believe.
Little was known about the self-appointed Prior of this small, fringe Roman Catholic sect. Having assumed the moniker of Brother Vitalis, the self proclaimed hierophant had gathered his followers under the auspices of the Virgin Mary who, he claimed, had spoken to him following forty days of fasting, mortification and meditation on the Sacred Heart. During the divine apparition Brother Vitalis has been directed to transcribe a secret, and had received certain items that would bring him and those who followed his call to a level of spiritual transcendence never before experienced by any person on the mortal plane.
The home of the Priory was an old, ‘two-story over basement’ style house, the type that characterises much of Dublin’s North Circular Road. They drew little attention to themselves at first and were regarded initially as just a bunch of overly religious, and slightly odd, men and women affiliated through their particular religious devotion. Following their few interactions with the local community they came to be derided as religious zealots, slightly odd and slightly disliked for their sometimes proselytizing, sometimes aloof, manner. By the time the end came, the half whispered rumours of what went on amongst that group and within that house had drawn the ire and distrust of their neighbours.
Later investigations revealed that there had been thirty members of the Priory, including Br. Vitalis. All had turned their backs on their families and friends after joining the group, but they were adults - all except one, the last to join - and there was no suggestion of coercion. There was little either concerned family or the law could do. In the end it was the disappearance of a teenage girl, the thirtieth and final member, that brought the Gardaí to the doorsteps of the priory, and forced into the public gaze a vista so horrific and sepulchral, so beyond rational experience, that it brought many of those who had first hand experience of the events, families, medics and police, to the brink of psychological collapse.
Not much was known for certain of the practices of the Priory or of the conditions inside the house. No doubt living conditions were cramped, even in so spacious a dwelling. What was known was that the members were seen every midnight, walking in hooded and cloaked procession down the ten or so steps from the hall door to the basement level, before proceeding back to the upper quarters of the house after several hours. Due to the low murmur of chanting and the flicker of candle light through the greasy windows it was generally inferred by those acquainted with this sight that the basement housed their chapel and was, according to speculation, a place of bizarre ritual and unorthodox ceremony. The spectacle was greeted with bewilderment at first, as observed from the windows of facing houses or anyone that might be walking by at that hour of the night. But this soon turned to concern as it became noticed that the members of this procession began to look noticeably sick and gaunt, even under their coarse and loose fitting hooded robes. They looked frail, and as days and weeks passed their procession became a slow and unsteady shamble. The impression of unwholesome malaise was heightened under the yellow street lights. Shadows sank their sunken eyes deeper and lent a jaundiced tint to creased, dry, grey skin. Eventually the sight became accompanied by a distinctly unpleasant and disturbing smell, powerful enough sometimes to overwhelm the sandalwood incense burner that Brother Vitalis pendulated gently in front of the increasingly unsteady cavalcade.
Rachel Lyons was fifteen when she disappeared, failing to return from school one afternoon. It was several weeks later that an anonymous caller to the Gardaí reported seeing the missing girl amongst the nightly march of devotees that traipsed down those granite steps in pious column at midnight. When two Gardaí were dispatched from Cabra station to make a precursory visit, they arrived at the basement chapel door at half past midnight. Having heard whispering voices within but receiving no response to their knocking, they opened the unlocked door and came upon the following, awful scene:
The chapel of The Priory was a medium sized rectangular room. The faithful slumped robed and hooded in a circle, on hard, wooden chairs. At the top of the circle situated the furthest from the entrance was a larger wooden chair, the seat of the Prior, now occupied. Young Rachel has indeed joined the Priory, and was seated in the circle accordingly with her new-found brothers and sisters. She sat on the immediate right hand side of Brother Vitalis. She held something in her outstretched, slender right hand, which looked to the Guards disturbingly skeletal in the faint flicker of candle flame. The item was about six inches long and looked like a large, dirty, blood-stained animal tooth. On her lap, supported by her left hand, was a wooden bowl containing an oily paste. The occupants of the other chairs slumped and wheezed and mumbled with a gentle fitfulness. Their eyes now fixed on the two Gardaí. Eyes that looked tired but burned and focused with an unsettling intensity. Most importantly, they were all alive, a fact that has haunted those first outside witnesses ever since. Slowly, one by one, their wheezing transformed into throaty death rattles. During the first five minutes or so that the Gardaí were there it proved a singularly disturbing and haunting chorus, and one that subsequently dispatched emergency services could do nothing to alleviate. It was too late. Rachel was the last to receive the group’s final sacrament that night, plunging the blood and paste congealed tooth into her side, to the horror of the on looking Gardaí. Very soon she too had succumbed to a wheezing, lugubrious death like the rest.
Behind the seat of the Prior, high on the wall, was an oil painting of a blue and white veiled Virgin Mary. Replete in detail, eyes to Heaven, weeping blood and with a slender dagger piercing her heart. The image was framed with a festoon of fresh lilies. Beneath the images was a parchment bearing the revelation she had supposedly given to Br. Vitalis. The inscription on which, written in the now brown-red dried blood of the prior himself, read as follows:
“Greetings to all true brothers and sisters in Christ, gathered under the patronage of Brother Vitalis, chosen of my son, your Lord Jesus Christ.
Know this, those of you who would have wisdom and redemption; I give special knowledge to you through the great Prior of your order of how to be saved from this earthly kingdom of Satan and reborn in the eternal Kingdom of God.
I give to you these plants from which your Prior will make a holy and sacred oil with which you will be anointed.
I give you this dragon’s tooth with which you will pierce your flesh and anoint your wounds. Anoint your hands, your feet and your side; pierce your flesh in memory of the suffering of my Son, your Lord.
Through this process you will achieve God-given knowledge of both life and death above any other Man, as a reward for your constant faith. Amen.”
The forensic analysis of the plant used by Brother Vitalis to create his anointing substance showed it to be in and of itself inert and innocuous. The active substance proved to be a previously unknown species of ergot fungus which infected the plant. From where he had come into possession of this plant could never be ascertained and the particular strain of fungus is still unique in the field of botanic classification. It transpired that the fungus could induce a very specific pattern of vasoconstriction and necrosis, resulting in a type of gangrenous decomposition in living tissue. The strange substance acted with a unique and very particular pattern of efficacy on the various tissues of the body. Precursory examinations of the bodies showed that they had been punctured several times, over a prolonged period, in locations consistent with the wounds of Jesus, most likely by the strange, sharp animal tooth, still also of unclassified genus, that Rachel held in her hand and had been seen with which to pierce herself prior to her death. From what the Gardaí has seen, it was this long, sharp ‘dragons tooth’ that was dipped into the strange holy ointment and so introduced the poison into the body via the wounds.
The bizarre conclusion that this substance could induce the death of the body while keeping certain higher functions temporarily intact was sustained when post mortem on Brother Vitalis and the rest of the members of the Priory proved one, conclusive, startling fact. The bodies of those pitiful thirty, who had been witnessed wheezing and whispering and expiring within fifteen minutes of each other in the presence of the investigating Gardaí, had been dead and in a state of decomposition for approximately two weeks.
(Gardaí: Irish police force.)
Bio: I am from Dublin, Ireland, new to writing and as yet unpublished.