July 5th – The Festival of the Twisted Spire

The Church of Ermine the Fallen isn’t much used, these days, not that it ever was. It’s kept unlocked, but inside there is little to look at, just a few wooden benches and some whitewashed walls. The priest is nominal, primarily helping out at one of Buentoille’s many other churches. It isn’t a comfortable space, and the local worshippers go elsewhere; they feel too guilty. It gets more use as a place to keep polling booths than as a place of worship, and today is one of the only days that anyone visits it.

The Church’s spire can be seen from a way off, the malignant twist to it a constant reminder of what happened there over 100 years ago when it was first constructed. A casual observer might see the twist as quirky, picturesque even, but today’s festival ensures that the people of Darksheve’s district, where the Church is located, remember the awful circumstances which surrounded its creation.

The spire wasn’t designed the way it turned out. It was hastily constructed between 1876 and 1878, and has never been completed to the design laid out in the blueprints. Those blueprints were drawn up by Garrison Dreamer, an architect who had made his name designing the homes of aristocratic Buentoillitants, but when the plans became reality the architect publicly disavowed the creation, which allegedly bore ‘no relation’ to what he had designed. There were several reasons for this, the primary one being that the Church was a vanity project ordered by Darvil Demoliane, the son of the famous Durstan Demoliane who was killed by Nible Jaques in 1857.

Whilst Darvil attempted to avoid some of the negative associations his father had garnered, which eventually led to his murder, it was abundantly clear that he was cut of the same aristocratic cloth. Trying to portray himself as pious and caring, Darvil made sure he was frequently pictured attending and donating to the Chastise Church. When he decided to make the ultimate act of public devotion and build a church, he was very quickly met with an obstacle: The Union of Buentoillitant Construction Workers. The union had managed to remain strong throughout a period when many other unions were being broken up or coming under pressure from moneyed interests, and was certainly not going to allow its members to do business with a Demoliane, no matter how good and pious they claimed to be.

This frustrated Demoliane’s efforts for a time, but he eventually decided to hire untrained, unskilled workers from the poorest areas of the district he controlled, just as his father had done with his paramilitary ‘daremen’ before him. The construction was a rushed job where corners were cut and inferior materials used. Inside the building today you can see long cracks in the plaster work, held together by metal struts to avoid a dangerous collapse. The church is subject to frequent structural assessments. For Demoliane speed, rather than quality, was of the essence, as the Church was always intended as more of a PR stunt than a serious undertaking.

Without the oversight of the Union the construction site was an extremely dangerous place to work, especially as the workers had almost no training or safety equipment. Unfortunately this was all perfectly legal at the time, as Parliament placed little value on the lives of the poor, and too much on the pocket money of the rich. Injuries, both small and life-changing, were commonplace on the construction site, and it is estimated that about sixty workers were seriously injured and three killed over the two years. For the most part, these injuries were hushed up or simply ignored by the media. Quite frankly, nobody cared until much later, when the awful conditions became difficult to ignore.

The twist in the spire began slowly, unnoticeably, as the cheap, unseasoned wood used in its construction began to warp. It was a very hot day when Ermine Goodland was atop the spire, attaching heavy lead tiles, but it had been raining a lot in the previous few days. Her workmate, Kale Fernwerthy, told the papers later on that she could hear the wood groaning. She had attached the last tile when that groan intensified, and the wood suddenly buckled and bent under the heat, sending a shockwave up the side of the spire, which in turn sent Goodland, Ermine the Fallen, flying toward the street below. She landed on the iron railings of the local school, at playtime.

After that rather public death, there was no ignoring the unsafe conditions at the Church, and when it was finally finished later that year, almost nobody turned up to the opening ceremony. The twisted spire remained, hanging over the district, a mark of shame. Today, on the anniversary of her death, Goodland is remembered by the local residents; flowers are laid at the railings where she fell, and a special service is held within the church for all those others who suffered in its construction.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Doughty Ladies
  • The Day of the Largest Sail
  • The Procession of Saint Meldrew