WEIRD SUFFOLK: The curious church of Debenham which disappeared into the ground along with those worshipping inside
- Credit: Archant
The strange case of the Suffolk church swallowed whole by the ground, complete with its congregation.
In the Domesday Book of 1086, Debenham has two churches listed against its name: St Mary's, which still exists, and St Andrew's which fell into a pit and was never seen again. Or that's the story, anyway, immortalised in a poem and in local legends. St Andrew's, it is claimed, disappeared from the face of the earth in the 13th century and nothing whatsoever remains, other than the Domesday mention and the legend.
Villager Samuel Dove is recorded as having retold the legend in the 19th century, and the poem sheds a little more light on a mystery which has consumed the village for centuries: the consuming of one of the village churches.
It reads: On yonder hill tradition says
A structure stood in former days,
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Whose walls immense and scowling brow
Frown'd shadowy over the vale below.
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In cell immured full often there
The monks have muttered many a prayer,
And there the sad devoted nun
Hath often dismal penance done,
By superstition vainly driven
Thus to benefit themselves for Heaven.
But gothic arch and moss green stone
Or wide walls remaining none,
No vestige of the pile remains
Upon the hills and round the plains,
And only by its name alone
Of Priory Field the spot is known.
Suffolk is, of course, no stranger to disappearing churches: at Dunwich on the coast, eight churches, five houses of religious orders, two hospitals and three chapels lie under the sea after devastating storms swept away swathes of the town. Legend has it that sailors and fishermen refuse to go to sea if they hear the chiming of bells from the lost churches of Dunwich, believing that they foretell the arrival of another terrible storm while divers who have explored the ruins underwater say they have felt an eerie feeling that they are not alone beneath the waves.
The last church to have fallen prey to erosion was All Saints, which was decommissioned in 1758 and gradually fell over the cliffs and on to the beach over the following years.
But Debenham is inland, so no storm could have claimed St Andrew's…