The Legend of the Black Mask

The Black Mask is a legend whose existence is supported only by singular anecdotes from two culture’s folklore, and a fragment of a stained glass window. One of the anecdotes, the Catholic tale, has recently been supported by the discovery of a cave and tunnel complex that was integral to the story.

The Catholic Folklore Account – A Tale of Four Saints

Some time around 406 AD, Saint Nicasius of Reims (then the Bishop of the city) prophesied the invasion of France by barbarian tribes. When asked if the people of the city should flee or fight, he told them to trust in the mercy of God, but that he would give his life for the people. When the Vandals arrived at the gates of the city, he delayed them from entering, allowing some of the citizens to flee. After the city gates were taken, and the barbarians were in the city, Bishop Nicasius again tried to save the citizens, only to be cut down and beheaded at the door to the Cathedral. Slain along with him were his lector (Saint Florentius), his deacon (Saint Jucundus) and his virgin sister, Saint Eutropia.

A short time after the martyring of the four saints, the Vandals gave up the city and fled. An unknown person, but likely a dear friend of Saint Nicasius, rose up against the barbarians, wearing a black mask to hide his features. His cause was righteous, and the Lord God blessed his actions, as he was angered at the death of four true believers, and he sent the forces of Heaven to help him drive the Vandals from the city. Those barbarians who were not killed in the streets fled wildly in fear, leaving behind what spoils they had gathered. The man in the black mask killed the savage Vandal King, but was mortally wounded in the battle. The body of the man in the black mask was never identified, and the rumor that he ascended directly to Heaven is not accepted by the Vatican.

The Folklore of the Vandals and Alans

There is very little folklore from the barbarian tribes surrounding this point in history. What exists tells that after the city of Reims had been taken by the Vandals, a battle broke out within the city. A Black Masked Man, with the help of the gods themselves, rose up against the tribe. A great battle ensued, and the Black Masked Man mortally injured the Vandal king, running him through with a spear. The Vandals were no match for the Black Masked Man and the warriors of Wotan, and he drove out the tribe from the city. In the battle, the Black Masked Man was killed, but was whisked off to Valhalla on the wings of a Valkyrie.

Historical Timeline

400 AD: The Cathedral of Reims was founded under the episcopacy of Bishop Nicasius.
406 AD, December 31: The Vandals crossed the Rhine river into Gaul (now France). The were met on the other side of the river by an army of Franks, and in the ensuing battle approximately 20,000 Vandals were killed, including the Vandal King Godigisel. However, a tribe called the Alans, allied with the Vandals, entered the fray and drove off the Franks. The Alans, under King Respendial, allied themselves with the remaining Vandals. The son of Godigisel, King Gunderic, led the two tribes together deeper into Gaul.
407 AD: The city of Reims (part of the Roman Empire) is besieged by the Vandals. Bishop Nicasius had organized a way to allow the citizens of the city to escape, and delayed (through methods unknown, but believed to be diplomacy) the Vandals from entering the city. The Vandals do eventually take the city. Bishop Nicasius, along with his lector Florentius, his deacon Jucundus, and his sister Eutropia, were killed (either at the steps to the Cathedral or at the altar) by the Vandals.
Before the end of 407, the Vandals abandoned the city of Reims.

Historical Discrepancies with Folklore

King Godigisel was killed in battle with the Franks months before the taking of Reims. His son and heir, King Gunderic, ruled the Vandals until his death in 428 AD, so the Black Mask could not have killed the “Savage Vandal King.” However, the Vandals and Alans, while “barbarians” were somewhat Romanized in their behavior; a number of them spoke latin, for example, and many mimicked the Roman military and conquest models. Therefore, it is likely that a Vandal governor could have been left to oversee Rheims when King Gunderic moved on.

Historical Support for the Folklore

The idea of citizens of Reims escaping a city under siege by the Vandals was unsupported, as the walled city was believed to be surrounded by the invaders, and therefore only a few would have been able to have fled before the escape routes were cut off. However, recent archaeological surveys have revealed that under the original Cathedral in Reims (the original was damaged in a fire, and was re-constructed circa 1218 AD) was built over Roman baths and hypocausts, and that a tunnel existed leading out under the walls of the city. The tunnel had been collapsed for centuries, but it lead to a cave about a mile outside of the city, which in turn was a short distance from the quarry used for both cathedrals. There is some suggestion that this tunnel was how the escapees fled the Vandals, and that they hid within the quarry until the threat had passed.

It was this small cave at the end of the tunnel that contained the four quarried blocks, each carved with a dedication to one of the four Saints. The block dedicated to Eutropia had been mysteriously hollowed out, and was filled with the Stand’s equipment (with the exception of a few items) and cleverly marked with the Fibonacci Sequence. A disintegrated note was also discovered inside.

The Legend of the Black Mask

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