A weekend wander: Conjuring the Devil?

On Sunday afternoon, with a little time to spare, we wandered out to North Marston, just a few miles from my home, to revisit the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While its name is quite a mouthful, the building itself is no more today than a fine old parish church… but, once upon a time, it was one of the busiest places of pilgrimage in the country.

The exterior of the church is interesting, with a good many periods mingling in a design that has grown organically, rather than to any particular plan… a feature shared by most of our older churches. What we had not noticed on our previous visit, though, was the wonderful collection of grotesque masks and gargoyles that runs around the church. It was good to see that when the outer and crumbling stones of the fifteenth century tower had been replaced a few years ago, modern carvings had replaced the old ones in a similar style.

The church was begun around 1150 and some of the older stonework still survives. It is a rather grand church for a small village, but much of its present style is due to its popularity with pilgrims.

John Schorne was an Augustinian canon who became Rector of the church, serving from  1282 to 1314. He was accounted a very holy man, revered by his flock and credited with many miracles, both during his lifetime and after his death.

One of those miracles was the calling forth of a chalybeate spring. During a drought, the villagers asked him for help and, striking the ground with his staff, the healing waters bubbled out of the ground. The holy well is still there, though it is now housed beneath a new canopy. The water was believed to be a cure for fevers, toothache and especially for gout. So great were its powers said to be that King Henry VIII himself came on pilgrimage to the spring twice, in 1511 and 1521.

The well was once a large cistern, with water said to be extremely clear and cold, yet it never froze or failed. Local doctors often included the well water in their potions and it is said that the village escaped the cholera epidemic that swept through the area. The cistern was covered with locked doors after a young woman, Jane Watson, drowned there in 1861.

The village welcomed many mediaeval pilgrims, some in the two half-timbered houses that still stand close to the church. Schorne’s reliquary stood within the church, receiving so many offerings from pilgrims that a window was installed so that the shrine could be watched from above the vestry… and the window, high on the north wall of the chancel, can still be seen today. Schorne’s resting place, though, is now empty. His remains were moved to St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, the resting place of kings.

The strangest story of John Schorne, though, is that ‘he conjured the Devil into a boot’. The church’s own website suggests that a ‘devil in a boot’ was simply symbolic of the agony of gout, but the story became a local legend regardless…and a sculpted boot now adorns his well.


About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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19 Responses to A weekend wander: Conjuring the Devil?

  1. Hmmm… more than a passing resemblance to St John the Evangelist’s, Dragon and Chalice methinks, and we know what that means…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Always such interesting tales around these old pilgrimage sites. Thanks for weaving it together for us

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You have such a way of bringing these wonderful places and their history to life again xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. V.M.Sang says:

    There is always more to these old churches than meets the eye. Thanks for sharing, Sue.


  5. Mary Smith says:

    Love the devil in a boot = gout! I’m sure many gout sufferers would agree with that sentiment.


  6. willowdot21 says:

    Thank you Sue for another beautiful tour 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  7. macjam47 says:

    You can see, I am once again way behind in reading blogs. This is a lovely post of an old church and spring. I always find the masks and gargoyles found on old churches to be so interesting. It always amazes me that they adorn a place of worship. 🥰


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