As we walked slowly through the church yard of the church of St. Mary’s, adjacent to Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, I came to a realization. This is the creepiest damn church in England. In the world in my head, I am 100% certain the M R James story “An Episode of Cathedral History” takes place RIGHT HERE.
Now: I like churchyards. I enjoy cemeteries. I tend to find them peaceful, and full of thought-provoking history. This one was different. This one, I thought to myself, would make a great setting for a vampire movie.
Because the vampires are here, and they have already broken out of their tombs.
You know, not for real or anything.
Although it was a beautiful sunny day, I was pleased to go inside the church, away from the gravestones. Until I noticed the face to the right of the doorway, at chin height.
Enter through the ancient, heavy door, and my eyes flew straightaway to the two bodies sitting on their eternal posteriors:
Oh, hell. The vampires are in the church.
I want you to believe me when I say this was the spookiest church I’ve ever
escaped visited. And I’ve visited the ancient Norman church of Elkstone — with no electricity — in the dark and alone.
Because I watch movies and know how these things work, I immediately looked up. What is going on up there?
I mean, be real. Who could use those stairs aside from flying vampires?
They came to a bloody end, after a bloody beginning and bloody middle. (This knight is Thomas III, 8th Earl of Berkeley and in charge when Edward II was imprisoned — and killed — at Berkeley Castle next door.) Is the lion couchant a companion, or guard, or jailer?
To the side of the altar, a glassed in room full of marble bodies.
Why? Why are these bodies in a room surrounded by glass? There is no entry to this room, it is walled off completely. They’ve got a perfectly good explanation, but … You know what I am thinking.
It’s a head of stone, which has been muffled with a cloth of stone. Why would you need to keep a stone head from speaking? I’m just asking the question, I’m not suggesting anything …
The exterior door is not just closed and locked, it is closed, and locked, and covered with a gate. Just in case.
Around the corner, a lovely short door with decorative design.
It’s also blocked, this time from the inside. To keep things in, or out?
And finally another, hidden door, along the back. This door leads to that blocked-in glassed room with the tombs. A-HA!
Exterior access only. I guess it’s like having a sublet in your church. For vampires.
View of that room from an exterior window of the church. Yes, I did have to crawl and climb my way along part of the wall to hold my camera up to the window for this shot of a private tomb. That’s a normal thing to do, right?
A lot of personality in this graveyard.
Also a bit of famous history — the grave of Dickie Pearce, jester to the Earl of Suffolk and the ‘last royal jester’ (maybe). Apparently killed by one of the Berkeley family when his master was a guest in the hall, his tomb was erected out of guilt. Or so goes the story. Do you think it’s enough to keep the jester from haunting the family? Because to tell the truth, a poltergeist jester sounds way worse than any vampire.
HERE LIES THE EARL OF SUFFOLKS FOOL
MEN CALLED HIM DICKY PEARCE
HIS FOLLY SERVED TO MAKE FOLKS LAUGH
WHEN WIT AND MIRTH WERE SCARCE
POOR DICK ALAS! IS DEAD AND GONE
WHAT SIGNIFIES TO CRY!
DICKYS ENOUGH ARE STILL BEHIND
TO LAUGH AT BY-AND-BY
Did you go and read that M R James story I mentioned before? You didn’t, did you. If you have a few minutes, check it out: An Episode of Cathedral History.
(PS – I’m being slightly more than usually silly today, so don’t let that put you off visiting this beautiful church if you are anywhere nearby. You will almost completely undoubtedly not see any vampires whatsoever.)