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Lair of the Beasts: Black Dogs and Ball Lightning
By Nick Redfern
October 15, 2011
The photo that accompanies this article shows just an old English church, right? Well, yes, that’s exactly what it shows.
But this church – St. Pancras’, in the Devonshire village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, is somewhat different than most. And like so many other villages in the ancient county of Devon, Widecombe-in-the-Moor has a curious history attached to it.
On October 21, 1638, St. Pancras’ was badly damaged by a catastrophic lightning strike that killed four people and injured no less than sixty-two. But, 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."
Strangely enough, this particular event had very eerie parallels with an extremely 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 on the monstrous incident: "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 reportedly seen 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.
Ghostly black dogs, ball-lightning, churches, storms, 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 wild man" seen roaming around the county back in the 1940s!
Devonshire is, truly, a strange place, indeed!
Nick Redfern is the author of many books, including The Real Men in Black and the forthcoming Keep Out.