Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sky Anchors Away: The Legend(s) of Sky Sailors and Anchors Stuck in Churches

The legends of sky ships getting their anchors stuck on churches, and an unfortunate sailor dying in our thick air trying to get it loose. This will be addressed in the "Ancient Aliens Debunked" due out in September

( and was actually addressed in the most recent issue of (not so) "Open Minds" magazine. While "OM" addresses the sky sailor story and Magonia/Agobard accounts, they do not do so this exhaustively. In addition to the "sky ship is proof of UFOs stories," the sources they quote hold other tales that they forgot to mention. When considering this as proof for UFOs, one must consider what other information Gervase of Tillbury was providing with his "UFO" story.


In his 13th Century historical work titled Otto Imperialia (sp), Gervase Tilbury wrote about an aerial craft over the city of Bristol, England which caught an anchor in a church steeple.

Bill Birnes, Ph.D. He uses specifically the term anchor. Now we don’t know what kind of anchor that is, but a creature, a man climbs out of this craft and tries to free the anchor from the steeple and all the people in the village start stoning him thinking he’s some sort of evil demon.


First, who was Gervase of Tilbury, and what exactly was Otia Imperialia about? Certainly it’s more than a work that can be used by ancient astronaut theorists. As for Gervase, he was sort of a traveling scholar. In short:

Born at Tilbury in Essex, he was a lawyer and cleric who lived most of his life abroad in the service of various rulers and prelates, notably the Emperor Otto IV, for whom he wrote, probably about 1211, a compendium of history, geography, and natural history which he called Otia Imperialia (‘Imperial Relaxations’). One section is devoted to ‘The Marvels of Each Province’ of England, ‘marvels’ (mirabilia) being defined as natural phenomena that cannot be explained, as opposed to miracles due to God's intervention. They include items which would now be classed as legend or superstition.

[emphasis added]

Basically, he compiled a lot of dispersed information into one place. Most of it was your average demographic information with a final section devoted to (then) unexplainable events and/or folk tales. The alleged anchor incident was contained not within the “normal parts,” but rather in the folk tale section.

Here is a recounting of Tilbury’s 13th Century Bristol, England event that’s as good as any. The relevant part begins on Page 12, but beginning on Page 10 towards the end may give additional context.

Kelly, Walter K. Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folk-lore. Pg 11-13. Web Based: Published by Adamant Media Corporation, 2006. 25 Sep 2008. (,M1)

The main point to take away from this is that some people, and Gervase of Tilbury, believed there was an additional ocean in the sky and that there were some sort of people that lived up there. They didn’t believe that these people were from space and in at least one case an ordinary sailor was involved “proving” the sky sea theory.

“He [Gervase] believed that two remarkable events had occurred within his lifetime which proved that ‘the sea is higher than the land’, indeed that it is ‘above our habitation… either in or on the air’ (a medieval theory based on the reference in Genesis 1 to ‘waters above the firmament’).”

For contrast, here’s another version of Gervase’s tale, presumably right from Otia Imperiale. Notice that the anchor was caught in a wall, not the steeple and that the sailor “drowned” and was not stoned. Emphasis added.

A strange event in our own times, which is widely known but none the less a cause of wonder, provides proof of the existence of an upper sea overhead. It occurred on a feast day in Britain, while the people were struggling out of their parish church after hearing high mass. The day was very overcast and quite dark on account of the thick clouds. To the people’s amazement, a ship’s anchor was seen caught on a tombstone within the churchyard walls, with its rope stretching up and hanging in the air. They were advancing various opinions on the matter to each other, when after a time they saw the rope move as if it were being worked to pull up the anchor. Since, being caught fast, it would not give way, a sound was heard in the humid air as of sailors struggling to recover the anchor they had cast down.”

Soon, when their efforts proved vain, the sailors sent one of their number down; using the same technique as our sailors here below, he gripped the anchor-rope and climbed down it, swinging one hand over the other. He had already pulled the anchor free, when he was seized by the bystanders. He then expired in the hands of his captors, suffocated by the humidity of our dense air as if he were drowning at sea. The sailors up above wasted an hour, but then, concluding that their companion had drowned, they cut the rope and sailed away, leaving the anchor behind. And so in memory of this event it was fittingly decided that that anchor should be used to make ironwork for the church door, and it is still there for all to see.”

Interestingly, Gervase is rumored to have run across more or less the same story happening in a different place and slightly later on. It’s so similar that the church of the event used the anchor as decorative metalwork. But this time it wasn’t Bristol, but rather Kent. What rotten luck air sailors must have.

Another account which is also often attributed to Gervase allegedly occurred in 1211 (or possibly 1214 — these dates are exceedingly difficult to pin down) in Gravesend, which is located in northwest Kent, England. Again the event involved a group of churchgoers who were attending services. This time the folks claimed to have seen the curious anchor plummet from the heavens and, much like in the Tilbury case, snag itself onto a tombstone in the graveyard which was adjacent to the church.
In another moment that smacks of déjà vu, the parishioners rushed outside to see an inexplicably floating sky ship and what can only be qualified as humanoid sailor leaping over the side. As in the previous account, there is no report of this aeronaut being tethered to the ship — or wearing any sort of protective gear for that matter — as it slowly made its way toward terra firma.
The God fearing mob — no doubt incited by fear or perhaps overcome by the exhilaration of contacting what may well have been construed as a divine life form — attempted to subdue the aeronaut, but he must have heard of the fates of this less fortunate brethren and was too swift and managed to scurry back up the “rope” unharmed. The lucky sky swimmer’s comrades saw what transpired from high above and sagely cut the tether that attached their craft to the trapped anchor and the vehicle “sailed out of sight.”
According to legend a local blacksmith made ornaments from the abandoned anchor that were used to adorn the lectern in the house of worship. An alternate version of the tale suggests a more grim fate for our poor aeronaut and, like his Tilbury counterpart, the being was said to have “drown” in the arms of his assailants, at which point its fellow crew members cut him and the anchor loose. In this version of events the anchor was melted and forged into new hinges for the church doors

Ancient Aliens claimed that the pilot was stoned, but clearly that wasn’t the case if they are referring to the account of Gervase. In the several versions attributed to Gervase, he recorded that the pilot drowned in our heavy atmosphere. Sure, there is mention that the people grabbed him, but no evidence of stoning appears. One wonders if he was an ancient astronaut, why wasn’t he wearing his suit to prevent “drowning?” Especially since so many ancient aliens theorists find evidence for suits everywhere.

Back to the version of the “sky sailor” where he was stoned by the townspeople. That version of the story comes from a UFO book in the 60’s. This book also claims that the anchor was caught in a steeple, and not a stone in the wall. Bill Birnes of Ancient Aliens is quoting the story from the UFO book, not the Otia Imperialia.

1270 A. D. Bristol England: "In Otto Imperialia, Book I, Chapter XIII, Gervase of Tillbury wrote about an aerial craft over a city. The craft caught an anchor in a church steeple and a occupant of the ship scampered down a ladder to free the device. The man was stoned by a crowd and asphyxiated in the earth's atmosphere. The 'demon's body' was said to have been burned." This story is to be found in several UFO books, and is quoted here from Let's Face the Facts about Flying Saucers, (1967) by Warren Smith and Gabriel Green, President of the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America.

So far there’s several versions of the Bristol incident, plus the incident in Kent a few years later. Given that there are two identical incidents involving an air sailor some discretion should be applied to accepting how true it is. How about if there was a third one?

In 965 AD, supposedly recorded in an Irish record called “Speculum Regali” is the following story. Emphasis added for the similar elements.

“There happened in the borough of Cloera, one Sunday, while the people were at Mass, a marvel. In this town is a church dedicated to St. Kinarus. It befell that an anchor was dropped from the sky, with a rope attached to it, and one of the flukes caught in the arch above the church door. The people rushed out of the church and saw in the sky a ship with men on board, floating before the anchor cable, and they saw a man leap overboard and jump down to the anchor, as if to release it. He looked as if he were swimming in water. The folk rushed up and tried to seize him; but the Bishop forbade the people to hold the man, for it might kill him, he said. The man was freed, and hurried up to the ship, where the crew cut the rope and the ship sailed out of sight. But the anchor is in the church, and has been there ever since, as a testimony.”

The same story also appears here.

In addition to three nearly identical accounts involving a stuck airship and a church, there’s yet another, account of airship occupants and the threat of stoning. Prior to the Ireland account, in 9th century France, Agobard the Bishop of Lyon was informed of a group of four people, allegedly fallen from the sky, who were to be stoned by some villagers. Although the villagers claimed their captives were from the sky, Agobard dismissed this as nonsense. As a church official, his dismissal of people from the sky calls into question how some might use Genesis 1 as proof of a sea in the sky.

“But we have seen and heard of many people overcome with so much foolishness, made crazy by so much stupidity, that they believe and say that there is a certain region, which is called Magonia, from which ships come in the clouds. In these ships the crops that fell because of hail and were lost in storms are carried back into that region; evidently these aerial sailors make a payment to the storm-makers, and take the grain and other crops. Among those so blinded with profound stupidity that they believe these things could happen we have seen many people in a kind of meeting, exhibiting four captives, three men and one woman, as if they had fallen from these very ships. As I have said, they exhibited these four, who had been chained up for some days, with such a meeting finally assembling in our presence, as if these captives ought to be stoned. But when truth had prevailed, however, after much argument, the people who had exhibited the captives, in accordance with the prophecy (Jeremiah 2:26) ‘were confounded … as the thief is confounded when he is taken.’ ”

Of course the story is incomplete without its alternate ending involving, you guessed it, the alleged aeronauts getting stoned by townsfolk. The author of the Mysterious Universe article compiling the airship stories also finally admits how difficult finding the truth is.

“While most assume that Agobard is claiming to have he stepped in and used his influence to prevent their deaths, some accounts maintain that they were executed all the same , which just goes to show how difficult it is to wrestle the truth from these antiquated accounts.”
David Halperin, a UFO investigator, ties this event with Agobard to another much later event from the 1700’s involving a Turkish, Jewish cult leader. He claims that it was nearly identical to the Agobard event and concludes that they had little to do with space men and more to do with psychological Jungian archetypes (which aren’t without their own faults) and/or spiritual encounters.

Moving back to Gervase of Tilbury’s account. As stated before Gervase seems to have used his “sky sailor” story as proof of a sea in the sky, and of course Ancient Aliens figures this was old time spacemen and that the sea was space.

Certainly, if the ancient astronaut theorists people want to use that story as proof, given its faults as a non-isolated incident, they can. If they do so, then they must also take into account with equal authority the second account mentioned by Gervase as he gives it equal validity to the Bristol event. On Page 13 of Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folk-lore a sailor from Bristol, England dropped his knife overboard into the sea. Lo and behold, his knife then miraculously fell through a skylight in his home and onto his dinner table much to the shock of his wife.


Perhaps the ancient astronaut theorists would also like to include the following accounts as well. After all, they are also in the Otia Imperialia.

Gervase is thus an important source for medieval English folklore. He gives a Gloucestershire variant of the tale of the stolen fairy goblet (cf. Willy Howe); he describes little working goblins in patched clothes, who are generally helpful but also lead travellers astray—clearly akin to Puck and pixies; he tells of a swineherd who entered the Peak cavern and reached a pleasant Otherworld where harvesting was in progress, though in the human world it was winter. He has heard of Arthur's Knights as a ghostly Wild Hunt, and of a demonic hound with fiery jaws appearing during a thunderstorm in a forest near Penrith.

Given that Gervase believed that his accounts proved that there was a literal sea higher up than the ground, using it as proof of ancient astronauts hardly makes it a trustworthy piece of evidence. Especially in light of the fact that nearly the exact same story supposedly happened in so many places throughout different times. There are no less than three events involving the identical story and an additional story or two that are similar enough to raise an eyebrow. The three that are near identical even end in much the same way, even up to the inclusion of the left-behind anchor being used as metalwork for the church. And why would a UFO/alien craft use a contemporary anchor in the first place?

Either these sea-sky pilots have bad luck losing their anchors and sailors at churches and forget their protective suit, or a popular tall-tale it eventually made its rounds through the continent.

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