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There is a Church in Dyfed at Ysbyty Cynfyn that may have been built in a stone circle. There are witches that were buried in churchyards, or maybe the tales of their witchy antics grew up after their deaths. Such as:
In th ecase of Molly Leigh above she was buried at a right angl eto th eother graves and Meg Shelton was buried vertically.
I am unsure whether anyone actually executed under the Witchcraft Acts were buried on consecrated ground at the time of their deaths.....I am not saying they were not......just that I really do not know. It may also be interesting to note unbaptised children could not be buried in a churchyard.
My goodness, were our ancestors really like this? Pity the socially alienated living alone in rural surroundings then :-o
It's an interesting fact that the Welsh for church is 'llan' and it doesn't mean church per se, it means something like 'place'. I imagine many Welsh llan sites were originally possibly stone circles.
Remember, dead witches and heretics tended to be interred on the NORTH sides of British churchyards. For a fictional but historically accurate example see the Rev. M. R. James' classic horror story "The Ash Tree."
And as for Christian churchyards being former pagan worship sites, hasn't the very idea of Christian liturgies over the past 14 or 15 centuries been to turn such areas INTO consecrated Christian soil?
funny you should mention M R James because I have just been reading the Mezzotint and I came across the following towards the end of the ghost story:
"and poor Gawdy was strung up in double-quick time; and I've been shown the place he was buried in, on the north side of the church — you know the way in that part of the world: anyone that's been hanged or made away with themselves, they bury them that side."
He had placed his fictional story in Essex, but as you say oldtimeradio, James was often historically accurate.
Always keep an open mind about things; But make sure your brain doesn't fall out.
Be interesting to see how many 'witches' were actually buried on the north side of churches? Remembering also that the entire church yard is consecrated ground, all points of the compass. I'm pretty sure people who didn't square with the social fabric were executed at liminal points within the landscape, such as at parish boundaries and other out-of-the-way locations, such as the Wansdyke in Wiltshire; equally:-
'In late and post-medieval Ireland, unbaptised children were rarely buried in consecrated ground. Strangers, suicides, unrepentant murderers were also treated differently in death, interred in separate cemeteries
which were liminal, clandestine places associated with landscape boundaries'
interesting, but as you say the whole of the churchyard is consecrated so why the north.
off the top of my head the North direction is associated in geomantic Feng Shui with the element of water. i think we will have to dig a bit deeper on this one
oh yes, agree absolutely - the whole business fascinates me! :)
think the biggest single problem which will be encountered here is regional variety: as i have already discovered in an ultra light reading of the subject, some churches (to return to the original subject header) have bricked up north doors, others have non-functional north doors; some churches have no north door at all and never did have one; and to cap it all, some churches (Scotland) have a north door as the main church entrance!!
the only method to the madness that i can theorise is that churches which were built on locations with stubborn pagan associations were fitted with north doors through which to demonstrably banish lingering heathenry out from, which would also be a public demonstartion of the Church's dominion over matters of the spirit. Where paganism was not an issue no north doors were necessary. After the passage of several 100 years most remaining north doors were bricked up as reminder of the 'silly superstitions' which gave rise to them, the ritual reason for them having been forgotten.
why the north? well the northern aspect of the sky is its sunless aspect, where the sun never shines, and Christianity having strong links with the Roman version of Mithraism [sun worship] probably got the sunless north a bad name. So anything considered malign gets banished to the north. This association eventually attached itself to the north quadrant of many churches, but not all; a lingering folk memory of the ceremonial banishment north through ritual portals in the early centuries of the Common Era.
how we doing?
and on the topic of mysterious doorways:
I'm impressed with the theory - which the following web sites bear out, in that, sometimes the North door was retained but otherwise they were not.
from which I take the following quote:which you have probably come across:
Wilmington's church is also 12th century, though built slightly later, and was constructed on a small hill above the sunken road which passes through Wilmington, giving the impression it was built on an old pagan site. The church is accessed today through the 14th century porch and north door rather than the south, an exception for an area where most north doors in churches were blocked up, though this is probably due to the fact that the south door was purely for use by the priory. The 13th century north chapel, now a vestry, contains a beautiful stained glass window known as the "Bee and Butterfly Window" which depicts an image of St. Peter surrounded by several different insects. The Long Man is seen by some as a guardian of a gateway, which makes the church dedication, to St. Mary and St. Peter quite interesting as St. Peter is the guardian of the gates of heaven."
I wonder are the insects a possible source of research?
Oh I should, further to my recent post about the idea in Feng Shui that the North direction is associated with the element of Water, that I was thinking about the standard folklore tradition that a witch could be halted, or was in fear of running water. So would that be another thread in the business of burying suicides/alleged witches or otherwise marginalised people in this sector?
Well yes indeed, but not for me, not my cuppa. Both the churches you cite seem to have Marian associations? Those 'masons' marks' by the main door of the first church may be apotropaic, if they could be studied?
This liturgical theory concerning north doors is moot though - if it were thus there ought to be some documented proof for the liturgical rite, whatever it was; I see the north door thing as more colloquial and regional, and hence the broad variance of north door arrangements up and down mainland Britain?
Possibly. Folklore is real but it is also a magnet for dross. I have no idea where the fear of running water comes in. I don't think witches old or contemporary would have the slightest fear of running water, apart from the fairly common and understandible fear of drowning. So we look for the grain of sense in nonsense. Formerly rivers were often natural boundaries and so the liminal aspect of rivers may have been confounded with the nature of rivers, which is usually to flow. Rivers were frequently deified during the Iron Age in Britain and the sacred nature of some rivers persisted into the Middle Ages:
The page tactifully avoids the fact that this sword forms part of a tradition of riverine depostions in the Witham watercourse which stretches back into prehistory.
So why were heretics and witches buried in churchyards at all? You'd think they would have been interred down at the crossroads or the backside of some remote garbage-midden..
The remains of this once grand house has a reputation of being haunted and associated with a vampire legend. The property is private and you cannot gain access but the story of Eastbury House and its past owners is certainly interesting. Read More »