ANTIQUITIES AND CURIOSITIES OF THE CHURCH.
Supernatural Interference in Church Building.
BY WILLIAM E. A. AXON, F. R. S. L.
THERE are few things more curious in the folk-lore of architecture than the many traditions and legends as to the change of sites for churches in obedience to supernatural agency. At West Walton, near Wisbech, there is a detached tower standing near the churchyard gate. Originally, a local legend declares, it adjoined the church until the Devil, for some unexplained reason, took a special dislike to it, and decided to remove it. But instead of employing his own imps, he engaged a “number of people” of the human race to carry it off. They were strong, for they got the tower on their shoulders, but they were not intelligent, as they could not get it through the gate which was too narrow, or over the churchyard wall which was too high for them, and so after marching all round in search of an outlet, they dropped it where it now stands.
It is said that a field, known as the Savyne 18 Croft, was the site intended for the church of Alfriston, but each night the stones laid during the day were thrown by invisible agencies over the houses and into a field called “The Tye,” where the church now stands. One of the village wiseacres saw four oxen lying asleep, rump to rump, and this suggested the cruciform shape of the building! Waldron Church was originally to have been in a meadow on Horeham Farm, and the proof is that it is still called Church Field. At Udimore it is said that the church was in process of erection on the other side of the river Ree, but the stones were removed in the night, and a ghostly voice was heard calling, “O’er the mere, o’er the mere” — a phrase in which, as the rustics pronounce it, they recognise the origin of Udimore. When Mayfield Church was erected, St. Dunstan noticed that it did not stand accurately east and west, and putting his stalwart shoulder to the wall, he shoved the building into its proper orientation. This was the timber church. When it was re-placed by a stone church, the Devil was actively engaged in undoing the work of the builders, and his footprint long remained visible in one of the neighbouring quarries. Etchingham Church was once surrounded 19 by a moat, and, according to the local tradition, at the bottom of the water there is a great bell. It will never be visible until six yoke of white oxen drag it again to the light of day. There is a somewhat similar legend at Isfield.
Wrexham Church would have been built at Bryn-y-ffynnon but for the fairies. In the night time they undid what the workmen had done in the day, and when a watch was set, a voice was heard crying, “Bryn-y-grog,” and the owner of the land so called, was thus induced to give a site which he had previously refused. At Denbigh may be seen the ruined chapel which Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, began to build on a magnificent scale, but his ostentation was greater than his piety, and supernatural agency defeated his intention.
The antagonistic agencies are variously described. Sometimes it is the Evil One himself; sometimes the “fairies”; at Breedon the materials were removed by doves; at Leyland by a cat; and at Winwick by a pig. At Cashel the disturbing element was a bull, whose nostrils flashed fire, but one of St. Patrick’s converts dropped on to its back from a convenient rock. 20 and tore it asunder. The impress of the bull’s side may still be seen on the wall!
At Godreforth, near Llandew, the church walls fell down as fast as they were put up until the first site was abandoned and the present one adopted. Stones were brought from the Voelallt rock, and for this purpose two oxen were employed. One died, and the other, after many demonstrations of sorrow, lowed three times, whereupon the rock was shattered, and there was no further difficulty in getting stones for the erection of the tower.
Folk-lore contains much fossil mythology, and if we have not always the key that will fully unlock its mysteries, it seems clear that these traditions point to Pagan rather than Christian ideas. That they should survive even in their present attenuated form is a striking fact.
Elf.Ed. Most miraculous of all is the story relating to St. Columba’s unsuccessful attempt to build on Iona, noted here, on this site, in Nennius’ Historia Brittonum, translated by William Gunn.