Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Recently, I was fortunate to be able to visit St Michael & All Angels Church, Copford.

A very pleasantly located building next to the village green and Copford Hall.

 Until the late 19th century, the church was originally dedicated to St. Mary, the Virgin.

The architectural evidence indicates that Copford church had been founded by c. 1100, and that later additions were made over the following centuries.

The church has a proven bloody past in as much as there is evidence of human flesh nailed to the church door by Danish raiders, and some samples to this day have been preserved.
This would have been the skin of clergy and/or worshippers, and was a practice widely employed by these longboat warriors.

There is an account of 1710 which reads:

 The doors of this church are much adorned with flourished iron-work, underneath which is a sort of skin taken notice of in the year 1690, when an old man at Colchester, hearing Copford mentioned, said, that in his young time, he heard his master say that he had read in an old history that the church of Copford was robbed by Danes, and their skins nailed to the doors; upon which, some gentlemen, being curious, went thither and found a sort of tanned skin, thicker than parchment, which is supposed to be human skin, nailed to the door of the said church, underneath the said iron-work, some of which skin is still to be seen.

Until 1561 nearby Copford Hall  was a residence of the Bishops of London, including Edmund Bonner (c.1500-1569), known as ‘Bloody Bonner’ for his persecution of Protestants under Mary Tudor. In the 1540’s he feared the work of the reformers, and legend says that he hid some of the valuable church plate from their prying hands in a tunnel that existed between the hall and the church of St. Michael. Bonner or Boner, was a cruel persecutor of Protestants, and on Queen Elizabeth`s accession to the throne Bonner never tired of trying to convert others to Catholicism, and never repented of his crimes to Protestants. For this he was jailed and died in  Marshalsea Prison on 5 September 1569, and was buried in St George's, Southwark, secretly at midnight to avoid the risk of a hostile demonstration. According to Catholic sources, the coffin was soon quietly removed to Copford Church, where it was buried under the north side of the altar.

It is rumoured that the grounds of the church and hall are haunted by Bonner who, according to legend has been seen wearing his hat and gown looking for his treasure. and a further report adds a ghostly rumour that the church itself is haunted.

During the 20th century a cleaner reported hearing footsteps and the movement of books in the empty church.

Over the centuries there have been successive digs to locate the treasure, although todate no trace has ever been found. Perhaps the ghost of Bonner was put in place to deter clandestine excavations of holy ground.

The real treasure of Copford Church is actually in full view for all to see in the wall paintings or fresco`s adorning much of the building, and which were discovered painted over in the late Victorian period. Their cover-up was the work of Protestant zealots to remove any trace of the Catholic church which was perceived as being over adorned and vulgar to their more puritanical tastes.

Much restoration was made in the late 19th century to `improve` the original faded work, but the representation from these pictures more than justifies the results although there are areas where the artwork appears more of invention rather than reality.

On the day of my visit, a quiet Sunday afternoon, I found the church empty and still. But I had a strong feeling of being watched and followed around the empty pews although the presence I felt of a middle-aged man was beckoning me to admire the artwork on display. I `saw` this person dressed in late Victorian `country squire` type attire, and the presence of which felt like the Church itself, to be warm and very friendly.

My main interest was the beautiful medieval wall paintings, and particularly the scene around the chancel.

I took a series of photo`s, and the energy appeared to remain around some beautiful Romanesque arches on the West side of the Church which are shown here:

Despite it`s history, this building is devoid of any unpleasantry, and is in my opinion one of the most beautiful English country churches I have ever had the pleasure to visit.

As with all Church of England properties, night visits are not allowed to investigate the paranormal, although I am minded to return at some juncture with a camcorder to record any activity on a day visit.

Chris Halton 2012

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