There is a legend in Norfolk about Black Shuck, a vicious dog as large as a calf that roams the countryside ready to attack. Should you be stalked by him and by luck manage to avoid his slavering jaws but in so doing catch a glance of his flaming, ember-like eyes, you are sure to die within the year anyway. Tough luck that!
As befits a hound of his size, his territory is wide and his most infamous deeds are recorded as happening on the same day over 400 years go. First at St Mary’s Church, Bungay on the edge of the Norfolk/Suffolk border and then at Blythburgh church a dozen or so miles away.
The story goes that in the summer of 1577 during a violent storm on the 4th August, an apparition of the devil disguised as a black dog raced through a fearful congregation already quailing under the effects of the fierce weather beating upon the church. The Devil in the form of a dog (it is said), tore through the building killing a man and child and causing the steeple to fall through the roof. The animal then raced off to Blythburgh church, killing more people and, branding the door with scorch marks known locally as 'the Devil's finger-prints' and which are still visible today.
Now, Granny, being a logical sort of person tried to put all this into perspective and with her 21st Century head, thought a good explanation might be lightening-strikes and thunderbolts in candle-lit churches redolent with fear of God and the Devil as taught in those far-off superstitious times. Even a large rabid dog or one driven mad with terror might be capable of such attacks. The storm itself seems real enough as on that night, St. Mary's Church roof was indeed so badly damaged that full restoration only took place some two hundred years later.
Now we may dismiss these tales as lot of old hooey but often there is an element of truth in such matters and a recent archaeological discovery may (or may not) yet shed more light on the ghastly goings-on. Recently, the bones of a large animal were uncovered in the ruins of Leiston Abbey, Suffolk which lies less than seven miles from Blythburgh and were first found by archaeological group Dig Ventures in a project blazoned in the Daily Mail, 2014.
According to the report the dig revealed the skeleton of an extremely large male dog estimated to have weighed more than 14 stone, standing 7ft tall on its hind legs. The unmarked grave was less than 20 inches deep and pottery fragments found at the same level date from the time of Shuck’s alleged reign of terror.
We are told that radio carbon dating tests will give an exact age for the bones which will enable us to decide if the whole thing fits in with a medieval shaggy dog story or is in fact the skeleton of a rather large hunting dog used by a 16th century Abbot...
What do you think?
Addendum: Oh dear, Granny has done further research and has found the newspaper report to be a teeny bit of an exaggeration... In setting the record straight, DigVenture's Projects Director Brendon Wilkins said on 28 October, 2014 - 'Far from being the final resting place of a bloodthirsty hell-hound, it was clear that our dog skeleton had been laid to rest with care and consideration... Armed with this historical background, combined with the biographical analysis of the dog’s skeleton, a picture emerges of a working dog that lived long into ‘retirement’.'
So folks, the truth is that this skeleton is not that of the terrible Black Shuck but just for a moment there it had me going...