Observations placeholder

The Rev. Archer Sheper, vicar of Avenbury (Herefordshire County) - the church that emits organ music without an organist

Identifier

027822

Type of Spiritual Experience

Hallucination

Number of hallucinations: 4

Background

ENGLAND'S MOST HAUNTED CHURCH
From The Haunted Britain site - maintained by and written by Richard Jones

Hidden away from the outside world by dense woodland, the ruinous church of St Mary, Avenbury is both lovely and creepy.

Come here on a bright spring or summer’s day or even on a crisp winter’s morning and you can honestly believe you’ve discovered a little slice of rural heaven in Herefordshire.

But visit the church in the closing light of day, or when the night’s shadows have wrapped themselves around its toppled walls and solitary tower, and feelings of trepidation and fear take hold the moment you lay eyes on it.

Indeed, this picturesque ruin, which stands in a woodland clearing close to the picturesque banks of the River Frome, has long held the reputation for being one of the most haunted churches in the county, if not the country, and many of those who visit the site leave it having experienced varying degrees of paranormal activity.

The church dates from the 12th century and for nigh on seven hundred years it served the, now disappeared, village of Avenbury.

But by the late 19th century the church had fallen into a state of decay and, despite several attempts to repair it, the situation worsened and, in 1931, St Mary’s was closed.

By the time of its closure, however, reports were rife that the old church was haunted.

The phantom organist was a frequently reported phenomenon throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

One couple even reported hearing the sound of a joyous celebration coming from inside the empty and dark church at midnight one Christmas night.

The church had three bells the largest of which, "Andrew", was said to ring out of its own accord whenever danger threatened the parish.

It was reputed to have been heard in 1931 on the night that the last vicar of the church, The Reverend E.H. Archer Shepherd, died.

Apparently his death was unexpected and the bell had started tolling before it occurred.

His daughter, Marion, later said that they should have known he was dying because "everyone knows that bell never tolls for nothing."

She also recalled how one of the parishioners, Sarah Walton, had been kept awake all night by the tolling of the bell on the night of her father’s death and told how her mother, who was entitled to stay on at the vicarage for three months after his death, had to "...hurry her departure because she continually complained of sleepless nights on account of "that bell"."

Following the churches closure the bells were moved to the church of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe in London where, true to form, it was heard ringing out shortly after its arrival when a vicar of that parish died.

In recent years the forlorn ruin of St Mary’s Avenbury has become something of a Mecca for local ghost hunters and many strange things continue to happen.

A description of the experience

published in the Light (1919, page 310). The Rev. Archer Sheper, vicar of Avenbury (Herefordshire County), writes:

By an unknown cause, in the church of which I am the vicar, one can perceives the prolonged sound of an organ. I know of at least three cases where it was heard.

For the first, the music was heard by several members of Colonel Frosser's family from Bromyard as they passed over the pedestrian bridge adjacent to the church. They all perceived it and thought that the church organist was practicing on the instrument; but shortly afterwards they learned that neither he nor anyone had entered the church that day.

For the second, on a Saturday afternoon, while I was in the vicarage's garden, I heard the harmonium playing and, assuming that the woman in charge of cleaning the church had allowed her child to play on the instrument, I hastened into the church to defend it.

As I walked through the garden, I continued to hear the music, which stopped abruptly when I approached a few steps from the cemetery adjoining the church. I found the church door locked properly. I went in there and I couldn't find anyone.

The third time I heard the sound of the harmonium as I was riding across Avenbury Meadow. Sacred music was played, which I continued to hear during the time I travelled on my horse a hundred metres. It abruptly stopped as I reached the church.

A lady who lived nearby for a long time wrote to me from Leamington:

"I decided to tell you about an incident that happened to me and my husband regarding your church on Christmas night. When we entered the entrance to our house, it was midnight, and it was snowing hard. Suddenly, we heard several human voices talking loudly to each other. They came from inside the church. They were mixed with the multiple sounds of rejoicing; but while we discerned the different voices that were talking, we could not grasp a single word of what they were saying. Naturally, we tried to enter the church, but we found that the door was locked. Then we went around the church, seeing that the inside was submerged in darkness. However these noises, these voices certainly came from inside. Understanding nothing about this mystery, it made a deep impression. That is why the incident remains indelibly imprinted in our memory."

This latest information, provided by people who had lived for a long time near the church, in Avenbury, shows us that this place, for some unknown reason, was haunted.

The source of the experience

Other religious person

Concepts, symbols and science items

Symbols

Activities and commonsteps

Commonsteps

References

The church was founded ca. 840 AD but rebuilt in Norman times; the tower was built in the 13th century. Many of the Baskerville family are buried in the churchyard.