Britain is littered with churches, many of them boasting glorious architectural features and rich histories. But among the country’s many houses of God are a few which are surrounded by whisperings of paranormal activity.
Many visitors to these locations have reported ghostly sights such as phantom horse-drawn carriages, screams from buried alive victims and sinister murdered wives and mistresses.
Here’s a selection of 10 of the most terrifying and haunted churches in Britain. Read on… if you dare.
1. St Mary The Virgin, Bedford, England
The abandoned church of St Mary The Virgin is said to be one of the most haunted buildings in England. Situated at the edge of the village of Clophill, it was built in around 1350. It’s said to face in the ‘wrong direction’. Churches normally face east, towards the rising sun. It has therefore been claimed that since the church faces away from God, it has opened its doors to hell.
The church fell into disuse in the 1840s and was abandoned for around 170 years thereafter. There have been reports that the church was used for satanic rituals in the 1960s, and that shadowy figures and poltergeists have been witnessed there by everyone from policemen to filmmakers.
2. Buckland Abbey, Devon, England
Buckland Abbey is a 700-year-old house. It was built on the site of a former abbey, which was sold to Sir Francis Drake after he returned from his circumnavigation of the globe in 1580. However, while Drake was a national hero, locals believed that he had only defeated the Spanish Armada because he had made a pact with the devil.
Sir Francis Drake’s ghost is believed to ride across Dartmoor in a black coach driven by headless horses, led by 12 chattering goblins and pursued by a pack of baying dogs. Any living dog that hears the spectral hound is said to die instantly. It’s possible that the ghost inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Hound of the Baskervilles, as he was known to have visited the area and is likely to have heard the legend.
3. Chapel of St. Michael, Oxford, England
The Chapel of St. Michael in Rycote, Oxfordshire, dates to the 15th century and is known for its beautiful original features. A legend associated with the site is that the yew tree to the south of the chapel was planted at the coronation of King Stephen in 1135, after a seedling was brought from the garden of Gethsemane.
It also has its spookier legends. A woman in Tudor dress reportedly haunts the chapel, as well as an apparition of a Grey Lady who walks outside the chapel and near the yew tree. A monk in brown robes and a milkmaid wearing 17th-century attire have also been reported around the church and its grounds.
4. York Minster, York, England
As the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, the stunning York Minster is believed to date back to 627 AD. There are a number of hauntings associated with the church.
One of the most famous is that during the 1820s, two ladies from a tour group going round the church found themselves separated and wandering around the building. They encountered a man in a naval uniform, who approached one of the women and whispered in her ear. The story goes that he was the woman’s brother who had died at sea: the siblings had made a pact that whoever died first was to come back and tell the other if the afterlife existed.
Another apparition said to haunt the York Minster is Dean Gale who died in 1702 aged 26. He reportedly enjoys sitting in the pews and listening to the sermons.
5. St Barnabas Blackwater, Isle of Wight, England
The church of St Barnabas on the Isle of Wight was a late 19th-century church, now converted into part of a farm shop. A simple tin tabernacle structure, it is well-known for a ghostly story involving two builders, who were repairing the corrugated iron roof in 1980.
An elderly woman dressed in ‘old-fashioned clothes’ entered the church unnoticed. She called out to the builders, telling them that she lived close by, and offered them tea, and asked them to return the thermos at the end of the day. The builders poured out the tea, and found it cold and undrinkable.
At the end of the day, they took the flask back to the address the owner had given them, only to discover that it had been demolished. Enquiries revealed that the woman, a former churchwarden, had died in 1977.
6. St James Garlickhythe, London, England
Recorded since the 12th century, later destroyed by the Great Fire of London, and rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren, the church of St James Garlickhythe is known for its medieval mayors who are buried there. However, it is arguably more famous for the ancient, mummified body of a young man which was found underneath the chancel before the Great Fire.
Rumours circulated about his identity, variously stating that he was a Roman general, the first Mayor of London or even that he was Belin, a legendary king of Britain. Until he was recently buried, the figure – known as ‘Old Jimmy Garlick’ – was placed in a glass-panelled coffin.
His ghost is said to be seen walking around the church, and is reportedly a shrouded figure who stands with his arms crossed.
7. Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian, Scotland
The beautiful and mysterious Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian was originally founded as a collegiate church in the mid-15th century. Its architecture is considered to be among the finest in Scotland, and the building has a fascinating paranormal history to match.
Legend has it that a white lady, a girl from the St Clair family who founded the church, was bewitched by an evil spell and is now waiting there to be rescued by a knight.
There is also reportedly a phantom barking dog, as well as various hooded monks who are seen walking around the grounds. The underground crypt is also said to be home to a lot of spooky goings-on, and builders who have worked in the building reportedly state that they will never work there again.
8. St Columb's Cathedral, Derry, Northern Ireland
Located in the walled city of Derry, Northern Ireland, St Columb’s Cathedral was built after the Reformation in Ireland and was the first non-Roman Catholic cathedral to be built in Western Europe.
It is a well-known haunted site. In 1867, renovations disturbed the grace of former bishop William Higgins, and the tomb was moved inside the cathedral. This apparently upset the bishop: workers began to hear footsteps in the locked gallery, apparitions would appear in photographs and the organ would sound without anyone standing nearby.
9. Greyfriars Kirk and Churchyard, Edinburgh, Scotland
With the kirk tracing its origin to 1598 and the graveyard dating back even further to the 1560s, Greyfriars Kirk and Kirkyard in Edinburgh is said to be one of the most haunted religious sites in the world. Known for body-snatching and violent ghosts, the famously fearsome site has even been referred to by Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson.
The site’s most famous ghost is the ‘MacKenzie Poltergeist’ George MacKenzie, who was known during his lifetime as a ruthless persecutor of Scottish Covenanters, a Presbyterian movement in the 17th century. His spirit was reportedly released in 1999 when a homeless man looking for somewhere to sleep broke into his final resting place, the Black Mausoleum.
Next to this mausoleum is the former Covenanters’ Prison, which housed some 1200 members of a failed anti-government revolution in 1679. Only 257 prisoners came out alive, with the remaining dead said to haunt the churchyard.
10. Whitby Abbey and St Mary’s Church, Yorkshire, England
The small town of Whitby in Yorkshire is known as the setting of Bram Stoker’s famous novel Dracula. More terrifying, however, are the ghosts who purportedly roam the ruins of Whitby Abbey and the current St Mary’s Church.
One of the most famous is Constance de Beverley, a nun who broke her vows of chastity and was bricked up alive within the walls of the Abbey. Her screams are still audible today for those who listen closely. There is also the story of a phantom horse-drawn coach, which is said to charge towards the doors of St Mary’s Church before suddenly vanishing.