Friday, 16 April 2010

Where the Devil got the Friar

There is something irresistible about ghostly clergy. Every part of Britain has its tales of phantom monks, spectral nuns and unearthly vicars. Herefordshire is awash with them. It can sometimes seem as if almost every village has is ghostly monk or nun flitting about.

Quite why this should be is not entirely clear. Being devoted to the sacred things of life, the clergy have no obvious reason to be more prone to return as ghosts than anyone else. If, as some believe, ghosts are the wandering spirits of the uneasy dead, then the clergy should not really feature at all.

Others believe that ghosts are more like recordings of dramatic events that are somehow held in the walls of houses or the stones of the landscape. These recordings are imprinted by the strong emotions of those involved in events and can be replayed back if the conditions are right. The recording then appears as a ghost. Again, clergy are not noted for their tempestuous lives so why they should imprint their emotions on the landscape more often than others is not clear.

One ghostly friar whose story has survived for centuries was the anchorite of West Hide Wood, near Tillington. Exactly when this rather worldly cleric lived in unknown, but given that his job was to tend the small shrine that lay in the woods it must have been before the Reformation.

Whenever he lived, the friar was fond of slipping away from his religious duties to attend the gambling and drinking that went on in Tillington. One day the friar had completed his devotions and settled down to lunch when a passerby told him that a badger baiting was due to take place that afternoon and invited him to come along. The friar refused, knowing that he had more prayers to say for the souls of the departed that particular day.

But then what should come snuffling into his little chapel than a badger. The friar could not pass up such a chance. He hurriedly grabbed a sack and bundled the badger up. Then, forgetting his duties, the friar slung the badger over his back and hurried off toward Tillington.

The Bell Inn has traditionally claimed to have been the venue for the badger baiting, and for what happened next. As the friar walked along he thought he heard a voice coming from the sack, but discounted this in his haste to get to the Bell. He trotted up to the pub and the crowd of drinkers gathered outside calling out that he had a fine, strong badger in his bag. The friar then put the bag down and opened it. Out sprang the devil himself shouting “Daddy calls”. He then grabbed the friar and both of them disappeared in a ball of flame before the startled eyes of the drinkers.

To this day a ghostly monk may be seen hurrying toward the Bell Inn at Tillington. The rotund figure scurries along as if in a great hurry. He stops just outside the inn, and then vanishes into thin air.

The locals have a saying “where the Devil got the friar”, which means that something has been achieved by trickery or deceit for the Devil got the friar by tricking him into abandoning his religious duties.

This is an extract from Haunted Herefordshire by Rupert Matthews.

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