The Fressingfield Witch – Lawrence Harpham Murder Mysteries – Book One
Laxfield – Extract from the Parish Register
She arrived at my church in despair, rejected by her own parish, lonely, fearful and friendless. She was intelligent, perceptive and had known for some time that darker days were near, though her life was already immeasurably hard. She dreaded the future and was all too aware of her vulnerability as a woman alone in a county of violence and uncertainty. Men were fighting, dying, seizing land and plundering the great houses. Mobs ruled whether Protestant or Papist. A whole landscape had been defined by the war between King and Parliament, no county more embroiled than Suffolk.
Small wonder that her daughter grew up, consumed with animosity.
As property was destroyed, and prominent families were driven from the county, so the fear grew. Troops marched onward, determined to carry out the will of Parliament. And the will of Parliament meant destruction and desecration.
She was there when they arrived at the church; bore witness to the savagery. She had been praying; her new-found poverty never enough to diminish her faith. And it cost nothing to talk to God. And it was consolation while the world turned to mayhem about her.
There were rumours they would march on the churches soon, but nobody knew when, so she continued to worship.
She was alone when the doors burst open. Soldiers stormed in and set about their dreadful task. They swarmed into our church, pulling every picture from the walls. They hurled them to the floor with careless abandon. Later she found them beside the graveyard, trampled and burned, as if they never mattered at all. Sacrilege. She watched in horror as they tore a crucifix from the pulpit. They did not cast so much as a glance in her direction. She stood, trembling, at the back of the church watching the articles of faith she held so dear, torn apart by brutish men. Then, when she thought it was over, a soldier unsheathed his sword and strode towards her. She gasped. Her breath caught in her throat, heart pounding. His strides clumped across the stone floor. She lowered her head, braced herself. But the soldier turned his sword at an angle and scraped at the wall beside her. The inscription so familiar to her, so beloved, disappeared from the wooden panel, replaced by ugly gouges. She could still see it in her mind’s eye. “Ora pro nobis.” Yes, indeed pray for us. Pray for our very souls. Pray for salvation from these ungodly men.
And when she thought that all the destruction that could be wrought upon the tiny church, had been administered, more followed. The building shook and groaned as if under siege from Satanic forces. She rushed outside, fearing for her soul, to find soldiers manhandling the stone cross above the porch. Two men were atop the roof with heavy ropes which they had fixed around the cross and thrown to the ground. Below, soldiers grasped the ropes while those above pushed with all their might, grunting and red-faced with exertion. The stone cross rocked backwards and forwards as they pulled, then it split away, and debris rained from above. The cross fell to the ground and broke in two with a noise like a whip crack.
Their mission accomplished, the soldiers left, and she surveyed the wreck of the church she loved, her only succour. All hope vanished. When I arrived, she was kneeling on the ground, silently praying, as if in a trance. I too fell to my knees at the sight of the devastation before me. My shock and distress rendered me motionless for a while. I watched her cry silent tears, then found the strength to grasp her hands and hold them firm. We prayed together and she left without a word, both of us desperate to conquer our pain alone.
I heard that she returned to her dwelling in Fressingfield, broken and anguished. She never came to Laxfield again. It was said that she prayed through the night until her daughter forcibly removed the bible from her hand.
“What God would allow this?” her daughter said. And the hatred was born.