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Digging up the Witch

Part Two of The Witch's Finger


In the first part of this article, we took at look at St Mary's Church at East Somerton, the basic history about the site, from a very limited bit of Googling, and the folk lore tale attached to the site.

We also took a look at some investigations carried out at the site, and the different paranormal phenomena experienced, on these investigations, by the participants involved.

If you have not read Part One, now is the time for me to suggest, you go back and read it, as a lot of this article is not going to make much sense if you haven't already looked at it!


Apologies in advance, as this part is a bit of an epic, I do hope you find it interesting though.

I want to make sure that I point something important out here, this article has not been written to try and ridicule other groups, I have purposely left out group names, and have not named any of the people who were kind enough to share their own experiences with me.

There is a real purpose behind me writing this article, so perhaps the best way to start is to ask this question.


What exactly am I trying to prove by writing this article?


I suppose thats really the best question to level at this exercise,

What I'm trying to prove is that by limiting yourself to a casual google, and a quick look at the first few internet sites that pop up , you will learn nothing new.

By having a quick look at youtube and then repeating what previous groups have done on investigations, you will probably get no new experiences either

Worst of all, there will be no new content, no interesting new ideas for others to consider, just, as I said in part one, merely a rehash of the same old things..

I'm a great believer in trying to add new angles to investigations, thinking outside the box a bit, and then sharing what I come up with, so anyone with an interest in the paranormal, can dip in, and hopefully take something away from it, whether it be paranormal experiences, or factual evidence from the more extensive research I do.

I gave this article the title "Digging up The Witch", and thats exactly what I intend to do, of course its more of a metaphorical dig, as opposed to arming myself with a spade, and unearthing whatever remains under the tree at East Somerton. Its more a dig through the internet, and books, to try and expand what we already know, and add some more factual knowledge to the mix, of history, and folk lore attached to this site.


So Where shall we begin?


Pass the Spade, I'm digging up the witch!


Lets recap her story, old woman, with a wooden leg, locals said she was a witch, and depending on which tale you read, they put her on trial, and find her guilty of witchcraft, and then decide to either bury her alive, and build their church on top of her, or bury her alive under there floor of their already constructed church.

This burying business is done to stop her coming back, to cast her heinous magic on them.

As they start to throw the earth on the box they have put her in, she calls out a curse, saying she will come back and destroy them, and their church.

The years pass by, and a tree starts to grow in the middle of the church, and as it grows it destroys the church that surrounds it....The tree, the locals say, has grown from the witch's wooden leg, and its an accusing finger pointing to the sky above. She had her revenge on them all in the end.


Its a great little folk tale, and I feel awful about what I am about to do, but here we go!! The story is mentioned by every paranormal group, some of them explain a little bit about the tale, saying maybe its not so accurate, but no one takes it apart, or researches a little bit more, to try and add some more detail, or to debunk the story, and thats what I will attempt to do.


To start this journey, lets take the basics of the story, we have a local witch, put on trial by the villagers. Time for a quick look at Witches, we could always go more in-depth ,but we are simply concerned with the validity of our folk tale, so lets keep it simple for now.


Witches were people who practiced witchcraft, using magic spells and calling upon spirits, or even demons for help, or to bring about change. Most witches were thought to be pagans doing the Devil’s work. Many, however, were simply women who fell foul of their fellow villagers, and were accused of casting spells, and enchantments.


So why start to persecute these mostly female folk?


Some of it can be derived from the early Christian fear of Satan, there was often an element of misunderstanding attached to people who could do so called "magicks" and this gathered momentum when the church, a very large part of life for rural communities, began to throw around the theory of heresy, and witches being in collusion with Satan...heresy had to be rooted out, and destroyed, and it was not long before the accusations started, and the Witch hunts began.

There is so much more to the story of witchcraft, and the ensuing persecution shown to so called witches, and I hope to cover the story further in subsequent posts, and podcasts..East Anglia became a hotbed for WitchHunts in the 1640s, when Matthew Hopkins, The WitchFinder General began his own personal vendetta against local "witches" and that episode is an entire podcast on its own.


So its very possible that our witch was a local woman, who simply fell foul of her fellow villagers, and the rumour mill starts, accusations lead to a trial, the poor woman is dragged to the church, or to some other location in the village, the locals gather, and her case is heard.

Faced with the wrath of her fellow villagers

our unfortunate lady is questioned in front of them all, the evidence must have been overwhelming as she is found guilty of witchcraft, and her sentence is duly handed out.

Depending on which version of the tale we are reading, she is put into a box, and buried alive, either on the site of the church, which is constructed over her grave, or in the nave of the church itself.

This drastic action is taken stop her vengeful spirit from rising again, and punishing the villagers, and this dear readers, is where our little tale goes just a bit astray!!


Witches were most definately put on trial, and executed as well, there is absolutely no doubt about that at all.

A quick "Witch Trials" Google search, and you will find yourself reading through a plethora of sites, all full of examples of witch trials, and executions through history.


The most common form of execution for witches, was hanging, especially in the UK. There are a few cases of witches being burnt at the stake, especially on the European continent , and there were also few beheadings

Witch Hangings

Burning at the Stake

However, cases of witches being buried alive, are virtually non-existent, in fact the only real references I found were linked to more modern witchcraft trials. I did find lots of references to actual burials of dead witches, and those were really quite fascinating, so I decided to share a link with you, rather than list them all here, so take the time to click on it, and enjoy the article.


https://listverse.com/2017/01/12/top-10-bizarre-witch-burials/


So, burying witches alive was not a common practise, and neither would it appear was burying witches in consecrated ground, more likely was a hasty burial in a remote spot, or near the gallows where they were hung, to be left to rot away, and be forgotten.

Not looking too good for our story, and now to finally nail the coffin lid shut, so we can give it a proper burial, lets have a look at this tree that grew from the wooden leg.


The Tree In Question

Its an oak tree, quite tall, but rather slender, yes I think you know whats coming up here, so bear with me!!

If this tree grew from the leg of the buried witch, it has to be around 300 to 600 years old, depending on which tale we believe in. If the witch was buried before the church was built, then we are looking at a date around the 1400s, as the church was built then, if she was buried in the church, then we are looking at a tree thats been around since the late 1600s, as this is the date its believed the church fell out of use


Its time to look at a couple of Oaks.


This Oak tree is 500 years old, its girth is about four times that of our one in the church.


This Oak tree is around 100 years old, and its a little bit bigger than our oak tree, which leads me to believe that the East Somerton Oak is probably less than a 100 years old,

Now to finish off the story once and for all, this is a newspaper clipping from a local paper, and it sounds pretty accurate to me.

Oak trees do not grow from pieces of wood, you could argue that because it was a wooden leg that belonged to a witch, then some kind of enchantment is at play, and the more spiritual amongst us would say thats the explanation.

I however, believe that Oak trees grow from acorns, and the story of the young girl planting her little seedling in the middle of the ruined church explains the tree perfectly to me.

I'm not saying I am correct, its really up to the individual person, as to what you personally believe , I merely gather evidence, and put forwards a case, for everyone to consider, to me its a key part of paranormal research, to actively look at stories associated with sites, and try to understand them, or in this case, pick them apart, and look constructively at what you have, then do some research to find the truth, if you can. Still love the folk tale though, and its important that these stories are kept alive in some way, as they are often told about a site for a specific reason, or they may even relate to a long forgotten event, that has become twisted over time, think of it as a long term game of Chinese Whispers.

Folk Lore can be told, to scare inquisitive people away, especially around smuggling sites, or to stop the locals from stealing things, like the stone used on old buildings, or they could just be old wives tales, told on drunken nights around an open fire, to scare people for fun.


History and Phenomena


A tiny bit of research, went along way when I began to look into the story attached to the site. So lets undertake a little more in-depth searching, and have a look at the phenomena experienced on those investigations, and the historical evidence we have, to see if we can link those together in any way.

In looking at what other paranormal groups had witnessed at the site, there are common themes that came up, I'm going to look at a couple, and see if I can add some more information through a bit of research, because on reviewing the investigations, nobody seems to have done this.


1.Words and Names

A lot of the groups investigating here, made use of various pieces of ITC kit, like Spirit Boxes, or had mobile phone apps that would come up with words. The utilisation of equipment like this, is fairly common place, and a lot of emphasis is given to the evidence coming out of them, but nothing appears to have been done, to follow up on the information gathered. At least if it was, it was unfortunately not shared to a wider audience. Which is something I cannot understand, why keep it to yourselves, is it not better to share your findings? We are after all, looking for the same thing, it seems very odd to just keep it to yourself!!

Its a bit of a minefield to try and explain individual words that are generated by phone apps, or heard to come out of a spirit box device. A lot of course depends on the context at the time, if the words are relevant to events happening as they appear, with some supporting evidence to this fact, then of course all of this should be carefully recorded for later analysis, but I have a feeling that its not often the case.

Names often come up, mostly christian names, you do sometimes get a surname, but its rare.

Its so easy to research names, there are census records available online, which could lead you to that exact name, but again, there seems to be a lack of any further research after the investigations took place, the names are duly noted, but nothing else is added as to who they might have been.


I can give you a good example, Out There has investigated at this venue, with another group called SPIRIT Norwich, one of the psychics from the SPIRIT Norwich team kept getting the word Bird, and could not understand the context, I researched after the investigation to find that a Captain Bird had lived at the nearby Burnley Hall! Could our psychic have been tuning in to the spirit of this individual?


taken from the1871 Census records

.


Taken from White's Gazzeter 1883

to add to the mystery, the name also came up during a Ouija board session at the site too.

Its easy to dismiss this kind of evidence, but its also very important to record it, and to share the information. Another group may have been given the same name, completely independent of our own investigation, all of a sudden you have a pattern developing, which takes me very nicely to the next thing on my list.


2.Monks

Another common experience at the site, has been the sight of ghostly monks, and hearing them chanting, these ghostly monks, who seem to be quite angry, may also be responsible for poking and pushing investigators as well.

Why would monks be here? This is a ruined church, not an abbey or priory, there is no apparent reason for monks to be here, yet not one of the investigations I looked into, has pointed this out, until now, which leads me very nicely into the next part of this article!


Its all in the Research


The monks got me thinking, and thats a dangerous thing!

After watching, and reading 8 different accounts of investigation, and then asking for personal experiences, I was surprised to see monks being mentioned in more than 50% of them, one person even sent me an EVP which sounded like monks chanting!!

With all this "Monk--ey business" ( I'm so sorry, just had to do it!!) going on, there had to be something behind it, so I quickly donned my researcher hat, and got down to some serious Googling. Time to share my findings, and possibly add some more food for thought, to other groups wanting to investigate the site


Are you ready for a little supposition?


Because I'm going to add a possible explanation for the presence of the ghostly monks, and yes it is entirely hypothetical, but it will give food for thought, and maybe encourage some intrepid souls to dig a little further.


Ok, I began the mission with just a simple Google search for East Somerton, of course all the usual things popped up, and instead of just clicking on the first couple of links, I went a bit further down, and had a look at the more historical links, you know the boring ones, full of writing with no pretty pictures, its worth a deep dive into these pages, because you find gems like this hiding in there!!


"There was formerly a chapel in East Somerton, it is now a barn"

Why am I so excited about that simple sentence?

Its the word chapel, that springs out to me, all of a sudden we have a different word applied to the area we are investigating, the word chapel has not appeared in any other group's investigation, or research, its a little confusing as it mentions a church in Somerton thats dilapidated, and a chapel specifically in East Somerton, that has found another use as a barn. The important thing you see, is that chapels and churches are very different animals indeed,


We have to ask ourselves,what is a chapel?


Lets have a look at the definition , to see

1 : a subordinate or private place of worship: such as. a : a place of worship serving a residence or institution.


So all of a sudden we have a private place of worship serving another building, so I dig a bit further

and here it is again, yes they have Somerton down as Somerset, but thats just an error, because Winterton is right next door to East Somerton, now we just have the chapel, dedicated to St Mary in ruins mentioned.


OK lets get back to our paranormal investigators, to see if we can garner any additional information from what they discovered, we are now looking for a residence or institution that maybe had its own chapel.

Now, there is mention of one such place in a couple of the investigation reports. That place is Burnley Hall, so the chapel may be for this residence, and yes its mentioned that St Marys may have served as a Chapel of ease for Burnley Hall. I hit Google again, searching for Burnley Hall at East Somerton, and yes, its there, and yes the ruined church/chapel is virtually next door, and then we hit a wall.

Burnley Hall is the perfect candidate, the only problem being Burnley Hall, as you can see from the NHER record below, was not built until 1710, and our lovely ruins go back way before then!



Its not looking likely that Burnley Hall is our chapel residence, unless of course, there was an older building on the same site, hmmmmmmm!!!


Damn I knew I had forgotten something, lets just throw in some dates to give us a bit of a timeline.

The ruins we have at our site date back to two different periods of history, the tower dates back to the 13th century (1200s) whilst the main body of the church dates back to the 15th century (1400s), it seems a bit odd that we have a 200 year gap between the two, but of course, they could have knocked down the older part of the church, and rebuilt it in the 15th century.


The records all say that the church/chapel fell out of use in the 17th century (1600s), and that is a good few years before our chapel candidate , Burnley Hall, was built.


So its not Burnley Hall, as its far too new to be linked to the church.


I wanted to get an idea of what might be hiding under the ground around the area, so I thought, how about good old ordnance survey maps, they have lots of ancient monument sites marked on them, off I go to find myself some maps, and see what I can discover.....are you ready for this, its a good one?

I've only gone and found another candidate, only this time its not a Hall, but a hospital! So what the hell is this mysterious "hospital" thats less than a mile away from our site?



Its a Leper hospital!

Yes, its true, there was a Leper Hospital at West Somerton, which just happens to be a very short distance from our site.

So, just a short little bit about Lepers, and Leprosy, as I don't want to do all of your research for you! I will however include some links at the end of the article for those of you who want to look a bit more into the disease itself.

Lepers have always had this bad reputation, going around ringing a bell shouting unclean, with bits of their bodies dropping off, thats the popular image associated with Leprosy. In the time period we are looking, the 12th to 15th centuries however, reaction to the disease was a lot more complicated. Some people believed it was a punishment for sin, but others saw the suffering of lepers as similar to the suffering of Christ. Because lepers were enduring purgatory on earth, they would go directly to heaven when they died, and were therefore closer to God than other people. Those who cared for them or made charitable donations believed that such good works would reduce their own time in purgatory and accelerate their journey to heaven.

So funding such projects as a Leper Hospital, or a simple Leper or Lazar house, was seen by nobility, as buying your way into heaven.


The Chapel of a Leper hospital near Cambridge

Most hospitals consisted of a group of cottages built around a detached chapel where praying and singing continued throughout the day, the rules decreed that the lepers should observe the disciplines of obedience, patience and charity, and hold all their property in common - the principles of monasticism.

Hang on there, monasticism..thats monks!!

Have I by some chance stumbled across the source of the angry monks at St Marys?


The Lepers at the hospital would certainly have had some kind of support, in the form of a Prior or a Chaplain, and it seems that these individuals were not always shining examples of monastic life, as this little gem I dug up points out.






As I said, way back before we got sidetracked by Lepers and hospitals, I was going to add a little supposition, well hold tight folks because here it is


I want to put forwards an idea for you all to consider. What if the Leper Hospital was a little further away from its possible site, and the church at St Marys, was actually a chapel for the Leper hospital?

It would account for the ghostly monks, who are rather angry that us investigators are messing about in the grounds of the hospital, when we should not be in there! Its a big leap I know, but there have been no substantial finds on the hospital site given on the OS map, apart from some bones, and an old jug, which is hardly conclusive evidence that there was a building there, and looking at the details in the court case, it seems the hospital had both a hall, and a chapel, so you would expect there to be something more substantial left behind.


We have mentions of the chapel, as I stated previously, I also came across this


"Catherine, wife of Richard Stoteville, late wife of Stephen Fourbisher, died in 1438, and Catherine Stanhow, of East Somerton, widow by her will dated April 9th, 1459, gives legacies to her son-in-law John Stoteville, and to Joan his wife, her daughter by Ralph Stanlow, her late husband, and appoints a chaplain to pray for her soul.that of Ralph her husband, and of Joan Pesenhale her mother, in East Somerton Chapel"


The leper Hospital is all but gone by 1399, stated as desolate, but the chapel still stands, supported by the church at Winterton, and the legacies left by Catherine, so perhaps it was taken over by the locals, and used as their church, until it begins to fall apart, and is thus left to nature, and its ghostly tenants.


So , there you have it, I dug around on Google, for about 2 hours, and found out all of the things I have mentioned in the article, yes ok I have taken a few liberties, but I also hope I have given you all a bit of food for thought.


I've added a little more detail to the history of our investigation site, had a good look at the folk tale attached to it, and come up with a "what if" for other groups to consider.


I could have been more in-depth with what I discovered. and given more thorough details on witchcraft, leprosy, and the medieval history of the site, but I'm not researching for an investigation, just desperately trying to point out, that research is an excellent tool for paranormal investigations.

Of course, there is nothing stopping any of you jumping onto Google, and having some fun, and that is certainly something I actively encourage


Finally just for fun, here is a link you our own investigation at this site, so you can see how we all fell into the same trap, as all the other groups who visited, to see what spirits hide in the ruins of St Marys Church, or should that be chapel?




for those of you who want to look a bit further

https://culturaobscura.com/history-of-norwich-east-anglia-witches-matthew-hopkins/

https://www.history.com/news/how-medieval-churches-used-witch-hunts-to-gain-more-followers

http://www.historyfish.net/clay/clay_hospitals_four.html

https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/living-with-leprosy-in-late-medieval-england/





























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