It was in that book that Rosenberg discovered the origin of the story, an allegation from a letter published in the Times of London on February 9, 1953 that a manuscript had recently been uncovered at Ampleforth Abbey, allegedly dating to 1290 CE. The text, so the letter said, ran as follows in Latin with a translation provided by a certain A. X. Chumley:
oves a Wilfred suseptos die festo sanctissorum Simon is atque Judae asseverunt. Cum autum Henricus abbas gratias redditurus erat, frater guidam Joannes referebat. Tum vero omnes eccuccurerunt et ecce res grandis, circumcircularis argentea disco quodom haud dissimils, lente e super eos volans atque maciman terrorem exitans. Quo tempore Henricus abbas adultavisse (qua) de causa impius de...
...took the sheep from Wilfred and roast them in the feast of SS. Simon and Jude. But when Henry the Abbott was about to say grace, John, one of the brethren, came in and said there was a great portent outside. Then they all went out and LO! a large round silver thing like a disk flew slowly over them, and excited the greatest terror. Whereat Henry the Abbott immediately cried that Wilfred was an adulterer wherefore it was impious to...
However, already at this early date there were questions about the story. Ampleforth Abbey was not nearly old enough to have such a manuscript, for example; its monastery was built between 1890 and 1897, and the order of monks claims to have been founded only during the Reformation. It is therefore of little surprise that the next iteration of the story moved the events from Ampleforth Abbey to the more picturesque and age-appropriate ruins of Byland Abbey, a Cistercian abbey from the Middle Ages left for ruin when Henry VIII closed the monasteries. We see this version of the story occur in Paul Thomas’s Flying Saucers through the Ages (1965), where Thomas (a pen name for the French musician Paul Misraki) relocates the story to Byland. However, Gavin Gibbons, the British translator of the book into English, noted that there “are grave doubts on the genuineness of this. Two Oxford undergraduates admitted to me in 1956 that they forged this document for a joke—but there is nothing to prove that they really did so!” Confirmation only occurred when Rosenberg, wondering why ufologists were so deeply uninterested in proving the story legitimate, telegraphed England and asked a friend to investigate on British shores. The return cable was conclusive: “AMPLEFORTH DOCUMENT A HOAX PERPETRATED BY TWO SIXTH FORM BOYS IN LETTER TO TIMES (LONDON).”
Nevertheless, the “sighting” was reported in at least six books prior to 1968. According to Rosenberg, the most outrageous misuse of the hoax came in Let’s Face the Facts about Flying Saucers (1967), where the brief account of 1953 somehow expanded into a complete domestic drama, complete with dialogue!
Brother John’s Medieval Saucer
It was an early afternoon in October, A. D. 1250 (Jacques Vallee writes that it occurred in 1290), and the monks at Byland Abbey in Yorkshire, England prepared to celebrate the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude. Henry the Abbott had previously discovered that Brother Wilfred had hidden two fat sheep on the Abbey grounds. The abbot confiscated the sheep from Wilfred and their succulent carcasses were roasting over a roaring fire in the dining hall.
The brothers were in a jovial mood. “I wish thee would till the fields as willingly as thee would watch the mutton,” one said to an eager friend.
“Black bread and cheese do not compare with mutton,” answered his companion.
As the brothers assembled for their evening meal, they heard a noise in the doorway Brother John stood in the doorway with a terror-stricken look on his face.
“What happened, Brother John?” inquired the abbot.
“I was walking towards the abbey from the fields and thinking about the roast mutton dinner. A strange noise overhead scared me. I looked up in the sky. A large silver plate is up there in the sky.”
The monks forgot their dinners and dashed into the yard.
“There it is,” shouted Peter.
“Mother of God!” said a brother.
Henry the Abbott and Brother John stepped from the dining room. A giant flying disk hovered in the sky and drifted slowly in the clouds. The monks were panic-stricken.
They fell to their knees with shouts of “Judgment Day”, and “’tis the end of the world” punctuating their frantic prayers.
The shaken monks turned to Henry the Abbott for clarification. “What does the appearance of this mean?” they inquired.
“Wilfred is an adulterer and must be punished,” snapped the abbot.
However, given the sheer number of sources that provide the correct information, this is one “ancient text” hoax whose spurious nature seems to have made headway with major authors. It seems that even the credulous Jacques Vallée actually learned something from the Condon Report, well sort of. He and Chris Aubeck included the Byland Abbey “sighting” in Wonders in the Sky (2009), but the authors recognized the story as a hoax and actually reported correctly that two schoolboys had confessed to the prank. Rosenberg’s criticism of Vallée for having used the story uncritically in 1965 went unmentioned, but Aubeck contacted Ampleforth Abbey’s archivist in 2002 to investigate the story. He told Aubeck that one of the pranksters had died young, but the other was then a retired academic. He told Aubeck that the surviving prankster wanted to be left alone. “I think he finds it rather tiresome. Consider to what extent you wish to dwell—or rather be pursued about—the japes of your youth!”
But would he have been so pursued if not for the credulity of ufologists, whose slipshod scholarship turned a schoolboy prank into a decades-long episode in the history of ancient astronautics?