Devizes Market: Thieves Beware

The old market cross in the Wiltshire town of Devizes relates the tale of Ruth Pierce from January, 1753. John Clare, the coroner in Devizes, recorded the following details in his inquisition (for those who would only read a short summary, jump a paragraph):

‘..a Great Quarrel arose between four women in the Market place in the Bourrough of Devizes. Aforsaid whose names was Elizabeth Slade, Sarah Slade, Mary Parker and the aforesaid Ruth Pierce who joined together and bought one sack of wheat of one ffarmer Nathanial Alexander of the price of seventeen shillings. After the collection of the money by one of the women gathered, it was noted that Ruth Pierce had not handed over her share of the payment which was four shillings. She was openly accused of withholding the money and the following account of what happened was documented in the inquisition, Ruth Pierce then called upon the Almighty for witness and wished she might drop down dead that minute if she had not paid it the Rash wish was repeated a second time and immediately from the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God was struck down upon the lane and as no marks of Violence appeared upon View of the Body the aforesaid jurors do propose that the aforesaid Ruth Peirce died asforsaid and not otherwise...’

So Goodwife Pierce either attempted to defraud her informal cooperative of four shillings, which was her share of the sack of wheat, or she carelessly forgot to hand the money over, foolishly calling on God to witness an action she had not performed. Whether God directly struck her down as a liar there and then, or the stress of the accusation naturally caused her heart to fail, we cannot be certain. Suffice to say, those who witnessed this tragic event were unlikely to attempt acts of petty fraud thereafter, the town fathers dolefully memorialising the incident in perpetuity on the market cross.

In Revelation 9:20-21, theft is accounted as heinous a crime as idolatry:

But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

Whether in this life, or the next, thieves will be judged and punished by a righteous God. Ms Pierce had little time to repent, but you have. Seek Him now while He may be found; claim His mercy while you still have breath. Come to Christ who is the very opposite of a thief, for He generously gives to all who ask, and seeks no payment in return.