Church of St Mary the Virgin, Astley
The Coventry Telegraph published the following story entitled ‘Riddle of the Astley ghostly monk’ on 21 April 2008. ‘TURN right at the first crossroads you come to as you follow the B4102 southwest out of Nuneaton towards Meriden and you will find the small hamlet of Astley.
This sleepy place is where you’ll find our first spirit and an abundance of history to boot.
The Church of St Mary the Virgin that you’ll find there today is now only a shadow of its former self. It is here in the graveyard as the sunsets that you may catch a glimpse of ‘Willie’ Astley’s first recorded apparition. The reason for his naming has so far eluded me, perhaps it comes from the old English expression of being frightened.
‘Willie’ is an enigmatic character, described to me as a hooded monk who has been seen dancing purposely through the gravestones towards the kissing gate in the last shadows of the day.
As the light fades into evening people have found themselves suddenly confronted by him, yet in that same split second he’s gone again. He is always silent with his head bowed beneath a cowl, the colour of which cannot be verified as his appearances are so fleeting.
The tales told have always ended with uncertainty as there seemed little evidence that he really is, or was, a monk. More likely he would have been a vicar or even a secular local who wore a hooded cloak?
It is true there never was a monastery at Astley so I under-stand all the puzzled endings to the tales.
But what seems to have been overlooked by these sources is that during the reign of Edward III, Sir Thomas Astley had obtained permission to change the seven serving priests of the time into a dean and two secular canons supported by lay members and novices.
Whereas monastic priests of the time lived together, often away from the outside world, the dean and his assembly would have had their own separate houses close to the church but within the neighbourhood among their attendants, maintained and supported by funds left for the purpose.
It is also suggested by archaeologists that Astley as a settlement was once situated to the North of the church, back towards Nuneaton, beyond the Castle and its lake.
One theory is that this occur-rence is simply a recording of an everyday event that has enough residual energy to replay itself over and over again through time.
It must be said that Willie causes nobody any harm and has more right to be there than any of us.