The Legend of ‘The Black Dog of Bungay’

The most famous event connected with St Mary’s church is the apparition of the devil in the disguise of a Black Dog in 1577. During a storm on Sunday, August 4th, a terrifying thunderstorm occurred with such – “darkness, rain, hail, thunder and lightning as was never seen the like”.

Storms were always greatly feared during a period when most houses were built of timber and thatch and a lightening strike could quickly set large areas of a town ablaze.

As the people knelt in fear, praying for mercy, suddenly there appeared in their midst a great black Hell Hound. It began tearing around the Church, attacking many of the congregation with its cruel teeth and claws. An old verse records:

“All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew
And, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew”

Then as suddenly as it had appeared, it ran off, departing for Blythburgh Church about twelve miles away where it killed and mauled more people. Bungay Church was damaged, the tower struck by lightening and the Church clock was broken in pieces. Although there is no official record of injuries caused, the Churchwardens account book mentions that two men in the belfry were killed.

Modern Influences

Nowadays, we would attribute the whole event to the Church having been struck by lightning but, in that superstitious age, many accidents and disasters were considered to be the work of the Devil. There had long been a belief that a Satanic black hound roamed the area and so it was easy to believe for people in the dark interior of the Church, that this evil beast was responsible for the catastrophe.

St Mary’s Church still attracts many visitors who come to see where this strange event took place but whereas the door in Blythburgh Church still retains the scorch marks of the Devils claws there is no similar evidence surviving in Bungay.

The Black Dog could be considered a manifestation of  Black Shuck, the spectral hound which haunts the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts. Many people still claim to see these beasts today and a sighting usually results in death or disaster of some kind (or so they say – there are folk in Bungay today who claim to have encountered the beast – and they live to tell the tale!).

The popularity of the legend has resulted in an image of the Black Dog being incorporated into the Town’s coat of arms and there are depictions of him on buildings around the town, the name living on in many of the town’s businesses and organisations, such as the Black Dog Running Club and Black Dog Arts.

In 2022 the inaugural Black Shuck Festival took place on August 4th – the date the Black Dog terrorised the congregation in St. Mary’s and this is now an annual event.

Is it any coincidence that the highest number of Satanists recorded in the 2021 census are in Bungay and the Saints?  (