Thursday, September 1, 2011

Great Balls of Fire!

It's just an old English church, right? Well, yes it is. But this one is a bit different.

Like so many other villages in the ancient county of Devon, England, Widecombe-in-the-Moor has a curious history attached to it.

On October 21, 1638, the village church, St. Pancras, was badly damaged by a lightning strike that killed four people and injured sixty-two.

It transpires that there is far more than initially meets the eye with respect to this particular lightning strike.

At the time of its occurrence, the clergyman was one George Lyde, who was born at Berry Pomeroy in 1601, and who was standing in the pulpit when the lightning struck. Fortunately, he narrowly avoided serious injury – if not death, even.

Interestingly, although at the time the event was seen as the work of the Devil, there's a school of thought that suggests the event was caused by that rare aerial phenomenon known as ball-lightning.

Indeed, the phenomenon that led to both death and severe injury in the church was said to have been provoked by nothing less than a "great ball of fire." Goodness gracious...

Strangely enough, this event had eerie parallels with a very similar incident at St. Mary's Church, Bungay, Suffolk, England, on Sunday 4 August 1577, when an immense, spectral, fiery-eyed black hound materialized within the church during a powerful thunderstorm and mercilessly tore into the terrified congregation with its huge fangs and claws.

So powerful was the storm that it reportedly killed two men in the belfry as the church tower received an immense lightning bolt that tore through it and shook the building to its very foundations.

According to an old, local verse: "All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew. And, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew."

Then as suddenly as it had appeared, the beast bounded out of St. Mary’s and was reported shortly thereafter at Blythburgh Church, about twelve miles away, where it killed and mauled even more people with its immense and bone-crushing jaws – and where, it is said, the scorch marks of the beast’s claws can still be seen imprinted on the ancient door of the church.

Ball-lightning, churches, storms, ghostly black-dogs, deaths, injuries - what was going on?

I have no idea, but I do have one final thing to add.

When I took the photo above (in the early summer of 2001), I was actually in the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor for an entirely different (but equally odd) reason, namely to arrange an interview with an elderly doctor who claimed knowledge of a so-called "hairy wildman" seen roaming around the county back in the 1940s!

Devonshire is, truly, a strange place, indeed...!


  1. When I was a kid, we all went on a driving holiday 'down south.' I remember going through Dartmoor and my mum telling us about the 'hairy hands' that were reputed to grab at the steering wheel of lonely travellers and try to crash them.

    We stopped at an old inn where they had a hearth fire that was supposedly burning for decades. The legend went that the devil had been tricked and if the fire ever went out he would spring forth.

    The place had leaded windows and a jackdaw in a cage in the rear beer garden. Lots of atmosphere for a kid with imagination.

  2. K:
    The Hairy Hands saga is a really fascinating one. I remember first hearing about it as a kid too, and it does have a bit of "wild man" overtones too it - albeit from a definite paranormal angle.

  3. Little known Factoid:

    When interviewed for the Domesday Book about the Fireball the Vicar of St Pancras (George Lyde) said "It shook my nerves and it rattled my brain!"