In the nineteenth century and earlier, there was a fairly widespread belief that on one night of the year anyone bold enough to keep vigil in the church porch would see the spectral forms of all those in the parish fated to die in the coming twelvemonth entering the church. The date most often mentioned was St Mark’s Eve (24/5 April), but in Herefordshire it was Halloween. To try to peer into the future in this way was regarded as both wicked and dangerous. In 1892, the Welsh folklorist Sir John Rhys was given the following account by a Mrs Powell of Dorstone:

On Allhallows Eve at midnight, those who are bold enough to look through the church windows will see the building lighted with an unearthly light, and the pulpit occupied by his Satanic Majesty clothed in a monk’s habit. Dreadful anathemas are the burden of his preaching, and the names of those who in the coming year are to render up their souls may be heard by those who have the courage to listen. A notorious evil-liver … once by chance passed the church at the awful moment: looking in, he saw the lights and heard the voice, and his own name in the horrid list; and, according to some versions of the story, he went home to die of fright. Others say that he repented and died in good repute, and so cheated the evil one of his prey.

The folklorist Ella Leather also heard this story from the same informant in virtually identical terms; the only substantial difference is that the date is given as ‘the Eve of All Souls’, not Halloween. This is the night between 1 and 2 November; in the Catholic calendar All Souls’ Day (2 November) is set aside for prayers for the dead.



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008

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