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1577, August 4: Suffolk Black Dog

According to a very old manuscript, on Sunday August 4, 1577, a very strange series of events happened in the county of Suffolk, England. The manuscript was written just a short time after the events it details, and was reprinted in 1820; it is from a copy of this reprint that I summarize the events described below.

StraungeTitle page of the 1577 manuscript.  [Picture sources here]

        Between the hours of nine and ten in the morning on Sunday, August 4, 1577, the town of Bungay, Suffolk, was enveloped by a sudden storm; rain fell in astounding abundance and with great force. There was thunder and lightning of such force as to perplex and terrify all within the church, for the force of the thunder caused the very building itself to shake. The interior of the church had been plunged into darkness by the unexpected weather, with only the flashes of the lightning bringing temporary illumination.

         Out of nowhere a dog, black in color, appeared within the church, surrounded by "fearful flashes of fire," a scene which caused some to think that "doomes day was already come." The black dog ran swiftly down the body of the church and passed between two people kneeling at prayer, which somehow wrung both their necks backwards and killed them instantly. The dog then bit another man on his back, causing the man to be "drawen togither and shrunk up, as it were a peece of lether scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawen togither with a string." Despite this bizarre injury, the man did not die. In addition to these strange events, the Clark of the church had been cleaning the gutter when a thunderclap had knocked him down; he survived the fall without harm only to be confronted by the same black dog that the congregation had seen... he escaped without harm, thankfully. The Rector of the church called all the people to prayer after the strange dog was gone, and managed to calm the panicked crowd. When the report was later written up, the author was quick to point out to skeptical readers that the church's stones and door both retained the marks of the black dog's claws, and the clock of the church was in fact torn to pieces.

        On the same day (though whether before or after the events at Bungay is not made clear) a similar black dog -- possibly the same one -- was seen in the church of Blythburgh, around twelve miles from Bungay; where it entered and was seen on one of the main beams of the church. It suddenly swung down through the church, blasting many people, killing two men and a boy, and burning the hand of another member of the congregation, before "he flew with wonderful force to no little feare of the assembly, out of the church in a hideous and hellish likenes."

        Perhaps needless to say, but the author of the manuscript states there were many witnesses to these events.

Now Again, Only Different

        While many, many researchers have presented the basic tale of the Black Dog of Bungay as presented in the old manuscript, none that I know of point out that the 1820 reprint actually includes TWO separate accounts of the events... and that these accounts are not quite the same.

        The second account, which is the longer of the two, describes the events essentially as they are presented in the legend above, and esssentially as most modern versions of the story are presented. But the first account, just one paragraph long, was written from the point of view of somone at the Blythburgh church during the storm... and shows some interesting variance from the legend above. As it tells the tale, between the hours of nine and ten in the morning, while the minister in the church at Blythburgh was reading to the parishioners, the storm suddenly enveloped the building in thunder and lightning. A bolt of lightning struck through the wall and into the floor, driving down about twenty people on that side of the church; it then tore up the wall to the vestry, broke the door, shot over to the steeple where it broke the timber and the chimes, and then shot off in the direction of the town of Bungay. The people who were struck down started to recover some after half an hour, excepting for a man of forty or more and a boy of fifteen who had both been struck stone dead.

        So, in short: no black dog appeared, only two people were killed there, and presumably Blythburgh was struck first by the same lightning bolt that struck the church in Bongay (this second point would be VERY hard to prove!). Just so you know.

One More Note: What Churches Were Involved?

        While in both accounts a church in Bungay -- St. Mary's Church, by the way -- is clearly one of the two places involved (the town's name given in the accounts as 'Bongay' and 'Bongie'), the second location is referred to by one account as 'Bliborough' and in the other account as 'Blibery'... so why then did I conclude both meant "Blythburgh"?

        There is modernly a town named Blyborough, that might have corresponded to the name 'Bliborough'; but the modern town is located in Lincolnshire, well over a hundred miles away from Bungay... and in the manuscript the author states "Bliborough, a towne in Suffolke." So we can rule out modern Blyborough, Lincolnshire. The name 'Blibery' has no modern correspondent. And a check on churches involved with Black Dogs and lightning in 1577 turns up the name of the Holy Trinity Church in Blythborough, Suffolk, only about twelve miles away from Bungay. Given that most of the words in the old manuscript account are being spelled more or less phonetically and differently by each author (as a glance at the quoted passages above will show), it seems reasonable that 'Bliborough' and 'Bilbery' are attempts at the then current name of Blythburgh, with local pronunciation included just to confuse things a bit.