A phantom fountain of blood is said to appear at this haunted abbey, constructed by William I (William the Conqueror) on the site of his victory over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Normans called the site Senlac, which means “Lake of Blood,” and legend has it that the ground sweats blood after a rain. The presence of iron in the soil probably accounts for the reddish puddles of water, however.
William built the abbey to atone for the Normans’ slaughter of the defending Anglo-Saxons, and perhaps to express his thanks to God for the victory. Within the church, he constructed a High Altar on the spot where Harold fell. Only a fir tree stands there now. According to legend, the phantom fountain of blood appears at this spot to commemorate the great amount of Christian blood that was shed in the battle.
Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536 in his break with the Catholic Church, and gave Battle Abbey to Sir Anthony Browne in 1538. But during a celebratory feast, Browne was cursed by an unhappy monk for taking church property. The monk said Browne’s name would be wiped from the land by fire or water. Browne’s inherited property, Cowdray Hall, which was passed down to Lord Montague, burned down in 1793. A week later, the surviving male in the family line, a viscount, was drowned in the Rhine, and Browne’s lineage came to an end.
A phantom has been seen at Monk’s Walk at Battle Abbey. Some believe it may be the monk who cursed Browne. Modern owners of the abbey believe it is the ghost of the Dutchess of Cleveland, who rented the abbey for a time. An unknown ghost of an old woman terrified residents in the 19th century.
In 1932, a ghost monk was seen in the crypt by two men holding a vigil there. The men also heard shuffling footsteps and creaking boards in the room above them, though it was paved with asphalt. They heard a man’s voice singing part of the “Gloria in excelsis.”
- Coxe, Anthony D. Hippisley. Haunted Britain. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.
- Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. London: Reader’s Digest Assn. Ltd., 1973.
- Hole, Christina. Haunted England. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1940.
- Underwood, Peter. A Gazeteer of British Ghosts. London: Pan Books Ltd., 1973.