The Tragic Legend of St Becket of Burly

Graveyard All SaintswebCredit must go to my father-in-law Mike who came up with the majority of this story, to my friend Jacqui for giving her son the coolest freaking name ever and to my brother-in-law Jona for the inspirational photograph of his home village’s churchyard.  

In 1348, the Priest of All Hallowed Souls in Burly-the-Wath was called away to Canterbury. In his absence, a promising young monk Truman Becket assumed the duties of Parish Priest. Plague came to Burly later that year…a strange plague out of sync with the surrounding countryside. Becket became convinced the plague was no natural disease but evidence of sorcery and witchcraft. Under Becket’s direction, a witch hunt began. Eighteen in the village were burned—twelve after exhibiting signs of plague and six accused of visiting this pestilence on the village through associations with the Devil.

At this time, an abbess from the south came through Burly on pilgrimage to York. Agnes Wymark stayed to assist Becket in his duties. The two zealots fell secretly in love as they continued to annihilate Satan’s presence. Until the day Agnes herself fell ill. There were rumours her symptoms may have been the product of a concealed pregnancy, but it made no difference to her fate. When the villagers came for her, Becket was distraught. Grief and fury turned him wild, violent and so he too was believed to be possessed. After purification, the remains of Truman and Agnes were concealed in iron urns to protect the village from their enraged souls.

For centuries, their tragic tale thrived. If a baby died, old women said Agnes Wymark must have taken it for her own. When the wind off the moor howled in the church tower, old men claimed it was Truman Becket’s screams.

Then in 1563, another mysterious plague came to Burly-the-Wath. A young boy from the newly established village school began experiencing visions of a medieval monk. The boy Tom claimed the monk was showing him the way to cure the village. At first the Senior House Master dismissed these as mere fantasy. But as the days went by, more villagers died and Tom’s visions grew more detailed. One night a beautiful woman in holy robes took him by the hand and led him to a well where the monk knelt in prayer. In the morning, Tom was discovered standing by the well, staring as if in a trance, his finger pointing down into its depths.

At last the House Master and the Parish Priest descended into the well, where they found the decomposing remains of a child—the House Master’s daughter believed missing for several months. Her corpse had contaminated the water supply. Once removed, the village plague vanished. In deference to their good service, the remains of Truman and Agnes were buried side by side in the churchyard. For many years, the parish campaigned to have Becket canonised but to no avail. The village alone refers to him as St Becket, a name they gave to the new school.

Iron bars and chains still surround the grave markers of Truman and Agnes…just in case.

2 thoughts on “The Tragic Legend of St Becket of Burly

  1. Pingback: A Magpie With No Shame: Unpicking Creative Process | Katharine Elmer

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