Bungay, Suffolk

On Sunday 4th August 1577, a Black Dog is reported to have visited the church in Bungay, Suffolk. Shortly after 9am there was a thunderstorm…(McEwan, 1986, p.123).

" Immediately hereupon, there appeared in a most horrible similitude and likenesse to the congregation then and there present a dog as they might discerne it, of a black colour; at the site whereof, togither with the fearful flashes of fire which were then seene, moved such admiration in the minds of the assemblie, that they thought doomesday was already come. This black dog, or the divil in such a likenesse (God hee knoweth all who worketh all) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed betweene two persons, as they were kneeling upon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in so much that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely died… There was at ye same time another wonder wrought; for the same black dog, still continuing and remaining in one and the self same shape, passing by another man of the congregation in the church, gave him such a gripe on the back, that therewith all he was presently drawen togither and shrunk up ,as it were a peece of lether scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawen togither with string. The man albeit hee was in so strange a taking, dyed not, but as it is thought is yet alive: whiche thing is mervelous in the eyes of men, and offereth much matter of amasing the minde..."

The dog then went into the church, a few miles away, at Blythburgh and:

" ...placing himself uppon a maine balke or beam, whereon some ye Rood did stand, sodainly he gave a swinge downe through ye church, and there also, as before, slew two men and a lad, and burned the hand of another person that was there among the rest of the company, of whom divers were blasted."

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According to a leaflet written by Christopher Reeve which is available from the Parish Church of St. Mary in Bungay, this account of the black dog’s visit was written soon after the event. It was written by a clergyman called Abraham Fleming and was published in a pamphlet entitled ‘A Straunge and Terrible Wunder wrought very late in the parish Church of Bungay.’ However, Fleming lived in London and it is suspected that he might not have ever visited Bungay (Reeve, 1988).

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Other records of events at the Bungay and Blythburgh churches corroborate some aspects of Fleming's account, e.g., the terrible thunderstorm, but they do not mention a dog (see Holinshed’s Chronicle, 1577; the St. Mary’s Churchwardens’ Account books, 1579).

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In the aforementioned leaflet, Reeve describes how the Black Dog has nowadays become “a rather endearing symbol of the town.” and appears on the town’s coat of arms and on the gate of the local museum (see above). Its name has also been associated with a local shop, a football team, a running club and the annual marathon. Alas the famous Black Dog weathervane was no longer there when I visited (January 2001), although the base with a memorial plaque is still there. A new weathervane has now been erected on top of the streetlight next to it though.

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The local library is also worth a visit. Information about Black Dogs can be gleaned from various books in the local history and paranormal/occult sections. There is an online library catalogue too.

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