Carlisle’s Cursing Stone
In 2001 a large stone inscribed with a curse was place in the underpass near Carlisle’s Tullie House Museum. It was designed by a local Carlisle artist named Gordon Young and made by Andy Altman. The wording came from The Monition of Cursing by Archbishop Gavin Dunbar of Glasgow in the 16th century. The curse was read out on every pulpit throughout the debatable lands (Scottish border) in a bid to excommunicate the thieving, murdering, raping and godless Reiver families of the region. However, for some strange reason, a few Carlisle residents blamed the stone and its apparent occult powers for some of the city’s unlucky events. I am not sure why though, as these are the words of a holy man, a Bishop of Glasgow.
The BBC covered the story of the cursed stone on in the following article entitled ‘Curse of the Cursing Stone’ on 2 March 2005.
It is an ancient curse brought up to date, and residents in Carlisle claim it has brought them disasters from disease to the relegation of the local soccer team.
Since the installation of the sculpted granite “Cursing Stone” inscribed with a 16th Century curse in one of Carlisle’s museums in 2001 misfortune has plagued the city.
Livestock herds around the city on the border with Scotland were wiped out by foot-and-mouth disease, there has been a devastating flood, factories have closed, a boy was murdered in a local bakery and Carlisle United soccer team dropped a league.
Local councillor Jim Tootle insists the stone, designed by artist Andy Altman who arranged the inscription of the 1,069 word-long curse against robbers, blackmailers and highwaymen who plagued the area 500 years ago, is destroyed or removed.
Councillor Mike Mitchelson, leader of Carlisle City Council, said: “The removal of the stone has been proposed by a council member and will be discussed as part of our Council meeting next Tuesday.
“We’re obliged to address his comments, but estimate that it will cost the council several thousands of pounds to remove the stone.”
“Carlisle is still in the process of recovering from the devastating January floods and our efforts are concentrated towards providing as much help as we can to local residents and businesses.”
“The Council will need to look at whether the removal of the stone is a financial priority for the local area.”
The city council also say local Christian groups, including the Bishop of Carlisle, were consulted and were in agreement with the “Cursing Stone” and a blessing was included within the artwork taken from The Bible, Philippians 4 Verse 6.
Artist Young, a descendant of one of the reiver families, has angrily compared the plan to the destruction of the giant Buddhas in Bamiyan by Afgahnistan’s Taliban regime in 2001.
“It is of that order. They want to smash it to pieces. It is a powerful work of art but it is certainly not part of the occult,” he said.
“If I thought my sculpture would have affected one Carlisle United result, I would have smashed it myself years ago.”
According to The Guardian on 9 March 2005 in an article entitled ‘They’re doomed!’
Has an art installation cursed Carlisle? A number of locals are blaming a stone sculpture for a series of local calamities. Tanya Gold visits the stricken city in an attempt to lift the spell. “Beware, beware,” as Bela Lugosi would say. “Beware the cursing stone of Carlisle.” This is not a Universal horror film, however, or a Hammer lesbian-vampire tale. This is northern England 2005, where a granite boulder, inscribed with an ancient curse, is torturing an entire city. Carlisle is in the thick of a Da Vinci Code-style drama, starring malevolent stones, bishops and archbishops, fearful locals, an angry sculptor and a Liberal Democrat councillor called Jim.
I have arrived in the Scottish borders on a clear morning to see if I can bring an end to the accursedness which, by all accounts, has been going on for too long. The prologue was almost five centuries ago, when, in 1525, the Archbishop of Glasgow, Gavin Dunbar wrought a whopping 1,069-word curse on the Reiver people, who were pillaging the district. “I curse their head and all the hairs of their head,” said the archbishop. “I curse their face, their brain, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth. May the thunder and lightning which rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah, rain down upon them.”
The Reiver withered and the curse of Gavin slept until 2001, when, as part of the millennium celebrations, the city council asked Gordon Young, a local artist and descendent of the Reiver, to carve 383 words of Gavin’s curse on a stone. It was placed in a gloomy underpass between Carlisle Castle and the Tullie House museum and then, if you believe, Carlisle fell victim to the curse once more.
There has been a cacophony of misfortune; foot-and-mouth disease, floods, a fire at Rathbone’s Bakery, job losses at Cavaghan & Gray, which makes coleslaw for Marks & Spencer, and the footballing relegation of Carlisle United. But Carlisle is fighting back. A Witchfinder General has come, in the person of Jim Tootle, the Liberal Democrat councillor who represents the Castle ward where the stone sits. He has demanded the destruction of the stone, or its removal from the city, in a council motion that was debated last night.
In order to establish the scale of what lies in front of me, I have tea with Tootle at the Crown and Mitre Hotel. A neat, sweet-faced man with a small grin emerges from the hallway. “Since the millennium project,” he says, sipping his tea, “there have been several disasters reaching biblical proportions. Many groups and individuals warned the council that the placing of a non-Christian artefact, based on an old curse on local families, would bring ill luck to the city.”
He won’t say if he personally shivers under his duvet at night but, he insists, “I believe that enough people believe that bringing the curse back into the city has brought misfortune. I am no expert on curses. I just follow the interests of my constituents. Lib Dems listen to all sections and minorities have a right to be heard.”
He shows me some of the correspondence he has received. “Ship it to Bin Laden,” says one email. A Mr Herbert Hedgehog has written, “Get serious. If your town is cursed, it is with a few blockheads so daft they believe a stone can bring bad luck.” A Reiver family has offered to put the Cursing Stone in their garden while another man has emailed, “I would like to see the stone smashed to pieces and the whole thing televised.” A United Methodist Minister has called to say, “Instead of destroying it, why not redeem it?”
The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev Graham Dow, favours redemption. He has asked the current Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, to “lift” the curse and has called on Conti to visit the city. Conti’s spokesman has promised, “The Archbishop would consider carefully any representation made to him by the civic or religious authorities in Carlisle,” adding: “Clearly the city has had a run of bad luck in recent years. Whether this is due to a 500-year-old stone is less certain.” The spokesman also confessed to me: “The Archbishop may send a letter offering his good wishes but he won’t be getting his Latin prayer book and his holy water and heading down the M74.”
Who in Carlisle most fears the stone? Perhaps it is Leslie Irving, 52, the editor of the Christian periodical Bound Together, in his toy town house on the fringes of the city. He is a believer in the curse. “There is absolutely no doubt,” he says softly, his blue eyes glowing, “that when Dunbar laid the curse he did it in absolute sincerity. He wanted harm to come to the Reivers. The stone was created to attract tourists but what has it attracted?” He pauses. “A baby held by his mother had his throat slashed in the town centre a few years ago. The man who created the project died. The man who opposed the project died. The only high-ranking Christian to speak out – the Bishop of Lancaster – died. The Archbishop of Glasgow died.” He stares around his pristine living room. “We were just a sleepy little city on the border lands but look what has happened in the last five years. Lives have been lost, destroyed and put in turmoil. Dunbar had no right to curse the Reiver. He should have evangelised, like St Cuthbert did.”
Irving shows me letters from his acquaintance and fellow stone-fearer, Kevin Davies, the Vicar of Scotby. “The stone,” Davies has written, “is a lethal weapon. Its spiritual violence will act like a cancer.” All of which adds a certain impetus to my task.
According to the local press, the town is split almost 50/50 on the fate of the granite. I spot Tootle, waiting to be interviewed on Sky News and playing a tune – Flaxen Bloom, he says – on his recorder. I ask passers-by what they think of the curse. “I’m afraid of it,” says Steven, a local boy. “Just look at it. It’s evil.” His friend also refuses to touch it while Angela, a waitress, says, “Why take a chance?” Richard, a local taxi driver, is less cowed. “The main issue in this town is not the ancient curse. It is the future of Carlisle United and traffic gridlock.”
The artist himself, Gordon Young, is upset by the accusation that he would do anything to harm Carlisle United. “If I thought my sculpture would have affected one Carlisle United result,” he says angrily, “I would have smashed it myself years ago.”
The stone sits innocently in a gloomy underpass. The morbid and the curious are milling around it. I touched the stone when I first glanced at it, so, some say, I am already cursed by its malice. But too late, I have work to do. “Spell and magic be gone,” I say three times to the stone, reading from a spell book. “Go back to whence you came.” I then visualise a pyramid and intone, “I am under universal light and universal protection; nothing less than universal protection can touch me where I am.”
Another way to break a curse is to burn the curser’s name. I write “Gavin” on my pad and burn it; then, since another curse breaker is vibrational energy, I do some star jumps. My final act of redemption is to take my diamond ring, which I have “purified”, and wave it at the stone. This lucky charm will protect me; I can leave Carlisle in safety.