Joseph Rosado and Arthur Molinary - Ralph Eastwood and Gordon Fergusson
Sir Kenneth and Lady Anderson and Major Richard Hort - Lady Luce and Richard Luce
The sound of young children giggling is not one you would associate with the rather austere surroundings of the inner rooms of the “Convent” - the official residence of the Governors of Gibraltar (See LINK). General Kenneth Anderson who had had recently taken over the governorship from General Ralph Eastwood had somewhat reluctantly installed himself in his new home together with his wife Lady Kathleen. World War II had only recently come to an end and the place was in serious need of refurbishment.
General Kenneth Anderson
Perhaps to lighten the mood after so much post-war austerity the Anderson’s invited their daughter and her children to stay with them at the Convent. Nicky and Penny – the Anderson’s grandchildren soon made themselves at home. One rather dull day in winter when the rain made it impossible to play outdoors in the Convent’s large and still attractive gardens the children had been messing about in one of the rooms when suddenly they rushed into the corridor that surrounded the patio laughing loudly and nearly colliding with their Grandmother.
“What a racket” smiled granny, “What’s all this about children?”
“Granny, granny “replied Penney. “We’ve been having a lovely time. We have been running through a lady”.
Only a few minutes earlier Lady Anderson had caught a glimpse of somebody she had taken for a nun of the Little Sisters of the Poor disappearing into the room where the children had been playing . . . . . .
When Lady Anderson later retold the above incident to the many guests that were later invited to the Convent on either official or personal business, most of the locals were not all that surprised. It was well known that the place was reputed to be haunted.
While researching into other matters I came across this anecdote and was somewhat taken aback – most residents may have been aware about a ghost that haunted the Convent but I personally had never come across the story during my early years in Gibraltar – and neither as far as I remember had any of my friends. A little bit of digging was in order.
The first thing I discovered was that although the history books on Gibraltar include many an odd tale that might qualify as a myth, ghost stories are mostly noticeable through their absence . Hardly surprising really as historians are supposed to be dealing with the facts as they see them while the existence of ghosts - whether in Gibraltar or elsewhere – is usually dismissed as nonsense by most level headed people.
I was nevertheless intrigued – especially when I read elsewhere that the Governor’s ADC – Gordon Fergusson (See LINK) - a level headed man if ever there was one – had put on record that many others had claimed over the years to have seen the very same ghost that Lady Anderson’s grandchildren had played with.
Gordon Fergusson – Possibly in the Convent, possibly reading up on ghosts?
It was a wet night, in the middle of winter. The bell of the church of St. Mary the Crowned, (see LINK) had just tolled midnight, when a horseman, concealed by his cloak, and followed by two servants well mounted, dashed up the causeway that led to the convent of Nuns, and reined in his steed at the portal. “Lead me straight to the lady abbess,” demanded the intruder . . . “The lady abbess, gallant sir,” faintly replied the other “has long since retired to rest”. “Indeed!” retorted the other; “Call up some of the sisterhood with speed, and bid them bear this token to the lady abbess.”
It was a fearful night, and would have been rendered more appalling to many, had they rested where the stranger and his charge stood, surrounded by the tombs of the dead who slumbered beneath. The features were those of a young man, and eminently handsome; but with dark furrows and deeply engraven lines on his countenance.
The form beside him had remained mute and stationary as himself; but, as if suddenly waking from a trance, a woman's melodious voice, in the accents of entreaty broke the stillness around.
“ Huberto, Huberto,” sobbed forth the lady, in tones of anguish, “ do not for the love of all the saints leave me in this dreadful place- let me return home. Huberto, my brother”. “Silence, Alitea!” was the almost savage reply. “How dare you profane the holy edifice which from this, until your last day, must be your home? Is it not sufficient that the honour of a noble house is tarnished . . . through the vile machinations of a love-sick girl? . . .
“You wrong me, Huberto; on my soul’s salvation,” shrieked the poor creature, falling at his feet; “never shall dishonour taint our family through my means - Release me from this dread abode, and I will swear never to see him more."
“You need not swear, Alitea; the good lady Abbess of the convent will take measures for providing against any such humiliation. “ And the poor girl, in the agony of her grief seized the folds of his long cloak within her arms, and clasping the dripping mantle to her breast, firmly retained it, as though it were the last link that bound her to all of hope
“Arise, Alitea," exclaimed the monster, “and kneel not for mercy to one whom your conduct has so deeply injured.“Thus conjured, the stately figure of Alitea de Lucerna, slowly left its humiliating position, and erecting herself to her full height, she crossed her arms upon her breast, and ceasing all further entreaty, gazed steadily on her companion’s face.
"I have deigned to play the woman, and have allowed my dread of this detested abode to overcome my nature. I have supplicated mercy, and in return, you have with cold cruelty denied my boon; and with the badge of chivalry on your heel, have struck me to the ground.
Now, listen; the noble blood of our house flows as proudly through my veins, as yours: from this moment I cease to owe love or obedience to my persecutors—I cast back your foul calumnies, with the contempt they deserve. Yet mark me, Huberto once and once only, shall we meet again in this world and fatal will it be to one - perchance to both."
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The sun had just sunk to rest on a delicious evening in summer; the doors of the neighbouring Franciscan Convent were thrown open, and numbers of persons from the adjacent hamlets, flocked, in their best attire, to offer up their prayers at the shrine of some favourite saint.
The churches and convents were of course the most prominent edifices then erected; and the few houses of entertainment which the increasing importance of the place rendered absolutely necessary for the accommodation of its visitors, were situated, in no very picturesque form, near the spot now known as the Water Port Gate. (See LINK)
Even at this remote date, Gibraltar was esteemed of much importance; and although traffic was naturally unlooked for from a rock possessing so few opportunities of culture, yet, as an anchorage for vessels going to and from the Mediterranean, it was sought by ships of all countries; and consequently its streets were crowded with foreigners of every description.
It was . . a delightful summer's eve the beautiful chapel of the convent was decked as for high mass, in the days wherein occurred the events the body of the chapel extended the whole length of the convent; and a long and lofty chamber, supported by two rows of pillars, in which His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent (see LINK) afterwards held his Governor’s banquets, constituted, in older times, a portion of the aisle.
A plan of the Convent showing the western aisle of the Chapel before the Duke of Kent decided that it was more suitable for banqueting than for prayers (1750 - James Gabriel Montressor ) (See LINK)
The King’s Chapel at the Convent less than 20 years after The Duke of York’s had more or less vandalised the original ( 1820 Henry Sandham ) (See LINK)
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As the evening advanced, the church became thronged with persons anxious to witness the expected ceremony. The service began; and even those unaccustomed to the Catholic rites soon discovered that the imposing spectacle was prepared to celebrate the admission of a novice into the community of Franciscan friars. And where was he, the cause of all the empty pomp and glittering show . . . Was he actuated by a pure and well defined sense of religion, to devote the remainder of his life to the service of his God? Or was he some outcast of society, seeking, under the garb of righteousness?
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The stream of time flowed on - seasons came and sped, yet unchanged by the passions of man.
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The confessional box chosen by the brother, was in one of the most remote corners of the aisle; The Convent bell had long ceased the toll for evening vespers, when a friar of the Franciscan order, slowly entering the portal of the Nunnery, betook himself to one of the penitential boxes, and awaited any supplication for penance and pardon, which the fair penitents might sue for.
A nun, the last of all who lingered around, took the room of those who preceded her. “Father," exclaimed a soft silvery voice, “is there hope for her, who, having forsworn all communion with the world, still clings with pertinacity to the recollection of hopes and joy ?" “Daughter,” responded the monk. “Hope is denied to none.”
“Would that it were so, father. . . Penance have I performed but all shrink into nothingness when my mind rushes back to days of former happiness . . . . “Daughter,” answered the confessor; “have I not already told thee, hope is denied to none?”
“Father!” You do not understand me; tell me,” she ‘continued, “if any hope exists for her, who still cherishes, within the dearest recesses of her heart, the memory of one, whom but to behold once more, she would gladly perform penance for ever?
“His name?” demanded the monk. For an instant the voice of confession was hushed. “Silvano," was the reply. “Have then thy wish, Alitea," whispered the monk; “the blessed hour has at last arrived . . . again I hear the dulcet tones of your loved voice, and from henceforth, be it in life or death, Alitea, we part no more.”
The Rock of Gibraltar (1658 - Pedro Teixera Albernas - detail) (See LINK)
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I must convey you to the quay where, in those days, all persons having traffic by sea were accustomed to congregate. There were numerous boats of all nations on the broad expanse of water; some moving gaily forward, under a heavy press of sail, while others, yet unprepared for their departure, remained riding smoothly at anchor.
To the eye of a casual observer, nothing remarkable would have been noticed yet the practised glance of a sailor might have discerned one galley, bearing the English flag, whose short tacks and determination to hug the land, denoted that either her cargo or passengers were not all embarked.
“Walk boldly, and let the broad feather of your hat droop over your face,” softly whispered a person, dressed as an English merchant, to the companion by his side, arrayed in an exactly similar garb. “Cheer up, my beloved Alitea, all proceeds as our wishes could desire “Silvano,” replied the nun, “I will do all you wish”.
“Two days have elapsed since our escape and the ease, with which we have baffled all trace, convinces me that the parties seek us far beyond the Rock. But here should be the gallant fisherman, who has engaged to carry us in his vessel. “Look, my adored Alitea," he added, in a lower tone; “they recognize the signal”
“Nearer!” Exclaimed Silvano, “in the name of Heaven, why stop you there? Two more strokes of the oar and your shallop will touch the land.” “The water is too shallow for a nearer approach,”replied one of the men in a husky voice. “Would you have us stave the boat in? It can't be done!” “Say you so, senor?”
And, seizing a coil of rope appended to the quay, he sprung towards the skiff.
The goal was gained, but for an instant only; for scarcely had the pressure of his weight been added to the vessel, when she shot rapidly ahead, and the gallant Silvano, unavoidably losing his balance, was hurled into the strongest part of the current. A shriek from the shore responded to the gurgle of the rippling eddy, as the waters closed over the head of their victim.
The old Mole in the early 17th century showing the old Water Gate - Puerta de Mar – and the rough and ready rocky beach beyond it where the above event was probably meant to have taken place ( Unknown )
“Holy Virgin!” exclaimed Alitea, in terror. “We shall meet no more.” “No more”, harshly repeated a voice. And ere the unfortunate girl could turn her head in the direction whence the sound proceeded, a dark mantle was cast over her person; and the dreaded appearance of two familiars of the Inquisition checked all attempts at rescue. Again the discordant voice broke on the ear of the almost unconscious prisoner. “Alitea, my sister, well have you prophesied, indeed; but little dreamt you then of the fulfilment of the augury. As you predicted, we have met again - and fatal will that meeting prove to one, perhaps to both. Ran not the words thus?”
“To one,” he continued “our meeting has already ushered in destruction; to which of us two it may prove fatal, I leave you to propound. Your words have in dread reality come to pass. We have here met for the last time on earth; and for the last time we part.”
The voice ceased, and the wretched Alitea, borne along by the myrmidons of tyrannical power. That night, from the garden of the Convent of Friars, lights were seen issuing from many a dark nook of the building, and passing from corridor to corridor, with a haste betokening some unusual and important event; but none dared speak openly on the subject; and soon the story of Alitea de Lucerna passed away from the recollection of the crowd.
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It was early in the summer of last year when repairing some pavement in the hall, which has already been mentioned as having formed part of the chapel aisle belonging to the convent, and which, moreover, was afterwards converted into the banqueting room of the Governor’s house, that the workmen so employed dug up the remains of a skeleton. It proved to be the bones of a female; and the only other relic found on the spot, was a small iron crucifix, such as the nuns are reported to have worn. And was the mystery attached to her captivity never solved? Never! But is it not more than probable that the site where the skeleton was found formed the place of execution and sepulcher of the lost nun?
Moving fast forward a nicely researched illustrated tourist guide book “The Convent” which was well edited and researched by Pepe Rosado was published in 2012. It ends with a section entitled The Story of the Convent Ghost – The Lady in Grey which follows Major Hort’s version closely with one or two variations.
Rosado identifies the Convent where Alitea was sent to as either that of Santa Clara in Main Street or another unnamed place in Irish Town whereas Hort fails to name it. The escaping lovers move south towards the New Mole and Rosia Bay where they are accosted by Huberto. Silvano manages to get away but escapes while Hort has them at the rather more likely Water Port. In Hort’s version he simply drowns, in Rosado’s he is seen dashed against dangerous rocks as he tries to make it to the waiting boat.
Rosado also suggests that Alitea was buried alive in the Chapel thus fulfilling her prophesy. But of course the same effect would have been achieved if she had been hanged or garrotted by the Inquisition. Hort does not give us any details as to how she was executed.
Rosado also offers a nice extra detail. The first floor of the Convent was raised a few inched during a major refurbishment during the 19th century all of which appears to corroborate the statements made by children who claimed to have seen her. They insisted that she seemed to be walking under rather than on the floorboards. Hort makes no mention of this. Nor does he call the ghost The Lady in Grey the name usually given to the apparition. The fact that nuns usually wear black habits is countered by a WWII expert who – according to Rosado dressed in grey during the 15th and 16th century.
A nun of the Order of la Merced Calzada in a suspiciously grey or white looking inner garment - I cannot confirm the WW II experts findings but it is almost certainly true that not all the nuns of the many extant religious orders of the 15th or 16th century dressed entirely in black
Perhaps more controversially Rosado suggests that the story of the ghost was well known by the early 18th century hence Major Hort’s story. He offers no evidence for this and I must say that I have never been able to find anything older than Hort’s account.
Pedro Amorós, President of the Sociedad Española de Investigaciones Parapsicologicas also investigated the veracity of the story not all that long ago. Like others he used Hort’s tale as a starting point but makes a couple of rather odd mistakes:
Entre la dilatada historia que precede a King’s Chapel, encontramos una curiosa leyenda que sitúa la aparición de un fantasma al que muchos han podido ver y otros escuchar según narra el Mayor Hort en su libro “ The Rock” y a la que titula como “ La leyenda de la Monja perdida”.
Perhaps unfortunately for everybody, Hort makes no mention of a ghost. In fact I don't think it was intended as a ghost story but rather as a rather crude Romeo and Juliet type tragedy in which fate intervenes and both romantic protagonists die. He also suggests the following:
Alitea fue retenida en el Convento y condenada por la terrible inquisición, quienes decidieron emparedarla viva entre las paredes de Kings Chapel.Again Hort is less than precise when he tells us how Alitea met her end.
. . . is it not more than probable that the site whereon the skeleton was found, formed the place of execution and sepulchre of the lost nun?
Here and there various other people have offered new instances of ghostly sightings in the Convent. During the very late 20th century Lady Luce – wife of Richard Luce Governor at the time – and her niece also claim to have seen the Lady in Grey at different times. There have been other occasions in which the female ghost is given a miss and her place is taken by a dog that only manifested itself to cats. According to Gordon Fergusson:
Lady Anderson’s cat would see it and suddenly leap on the back of somebody’s leather chair, more often than not choosing a person allergic to cats. My mother was such a victim when she was staying there’.. . . an amusing story which fails to explain how on earth anybody could tell that the cat’s odd behaviour was triggered by an invisible ghost dog.
It had also been claimed by some that the discovery about a century ago of a female skeleton holding a cross discovered under the Chapel floor is the final proof of the pudding. I have been unable to find out whether this claim is correct or not – Hort actually includes it in his story – but even if it were true the burial of nuns and others local dignitaries within the church was quite common during the Spanish era – Doña Maria Ana de Moya, wife of the Spanish Governor of Gibraltar was buried in the Chapel in 1684.
Arthur Molinary - a Gibraltarian born professional medium who works in the London College of Psychic Studies and very well known to those interested in such matters, visited the Convent relatively recently to investigate the place but inexplicably failed to mention the Lady in Grey phenomenon.
Finally several Spanish versions of the tale generally follow the above script but suggest that Alitea was actually Alicer de Lesly and that she came from a well to do Seville family. I have not been able to come up with anything that confirms this.
My Conclusion? I believe in the power of our imagination, of the ability of the human mind to autosuggestion and to seeing things that are not really there. My guess is that Major Hurt was the original instigator of the story – a story invented by him which has then been embellished by others over the years for whatever reasons. It is possible course that Hort picked up the idea from somebody else but I have not been able to discover any such source.