Great Hale Church Hails Great Fool

At Great Hale Church in Lincolnshire is the oldest tower staircase in the country (see bottom picture). It was built before 1100 and is probably Anglo-Saxon. What the tower lacks in decoration, it compensates in age. Naturally, the church wardens have a care for health and safety (or perhaps litigation) and keep the narrow door locked so foolish visitors cannot take a painful tumble.

See how narrow is the door, for it was built at a time when only rich people were fat, and disinclined to climb bell towers. See how worn the step is: a thousand years’ worth of feet have trodden this stone, wearing a deep groove.

Although the medieval Church was a popish leviathan, a vicious persecutor of God’s elect, it also included some people in possession of real, saving faith. I am always humbled when I visit ancient ecclesiastical sites to think how many generations have gone before. We always think our time and place the most significant, but, unless Christ comes, ours too will pass away. Our feet will be dead and buried, leaving little more than the worn grooves in the stones over which we passed.

Interestingly, when I arrived in the church, there was a strange clanging sound coming from a side chapel. It sounded like someone was inside cleaning or pottering, and I looked to offer greeting, expecting a verger to appear. None did. As I continued about the church, taking photographs and admiring antiquities, the noise would start again. When I looked over at the chapel, it would stop. I was alone in the church and the noise mildly irritated me, as I could not account for it. I felt like I was being watched.

The chapel from which the noises came was built by Hugh de Whetely in 1337, and a number of centuries-old funerary monuments were attached to the wall (see below), showing the dead at prayer. When I entered the chapel, the noise quickly stopped. When I left, it recommenced. Hugh de Whetely had been rector of a neighbouring church, while his brother Elyas had ministered here at Great Hale. The brothers had paid for a chapel to be built that successive generations might pray to relieve their burning souls in purgatory. Was this banging the old parsons communicating from the other side, knocking on the walls or floor of their own chapel, seeking respite and deliverance? Well I do not believe in purgatory, and old Elyas and Hugh, whether they be in heaven or hell, have weightier matters to occupy them than my visit to their old church. Was it some unclean spirit, clinging to the old fabric, disquieted by an evangelical intruder? Again, I see little scriptural evidence that demons dwell in buildings. Yet as I prepared to leave, the sound started again, louder than ever. Irked, I marched across to the old side chapel and stood my ground. He that is in me is greater than he that is the world! It stopped. I’ll confess to quietly reassessing my views on haunted buildings. I was not afraid- I was angry.

As I left the church, closing the old wooden door behind me, I beheld a bloke working on one of the cottages opposite. He was standing on a metal ladder, and each time he went up and down, it clanged. I laughed, concluding that modern people are just as superstitious and daft as any that went before. I nearly fell for it, which would have proved a more frightful descent than dropping down those tower stairs.