Beware the 'burley fighting monks' who haunt this small Shropshire churchyard

A small churchyard tucked away in a remote corner of Shropshire may not seem the obvious spot for a regular spot of fighting - but then this particular fight club is unique.

St Peter's Church at Easthope
St Peter's Church at Easthope

For it is said that St Peter's Church in Easthope, an unassuming little village between Much Wenlock and Church Stretton, is continually haunted by the ghosts of two corrupt and quarrelling monks who have been unable to settle their differences despite more than a century of furious fist fighting.

Shropshire folklore expert and paranormal enthusiast Amy Boucher learned more about the reports and their supposed origins in A Sheaf of Gleanings by Shropshire folklorist Charlotte Burne.

Retelling the story in her own words, Amy said: "All is not quiet in the churchyard of St Peter's Church in Easthope.

"Frequently, there are reports of shouting, and the sounds of a struggle, as well as a pair of apparitions who are at the centre of a very unique haunting.

"The ghosts are monks, who enact their final moments not too far from their burial site, but have also been witnessed in the church, and around the village. The pair are described as wearing the quintessential monks’ robes - complete with tonsure and interestingly as being ‘burley in appearance’.

"I love everything about this, as it brings a strong image to mind - think World's Strongest Man but with cassocks!

"In life the two men were far from holy, and their poor character was evident as soon as they left the monastery. The two resided at Much Wenlock Priory, and frequently visited the area to collect rent, as the abbey owned land within the village borders.

"Though on official duties, the two spent much of the time indulging themselves in the many carnal delights that life outside a religious institution had to offer. Far from brotherly, the two seemed to exist in a state of perpetual dislike and would frequently quarrel - though they trusted each other enough to know they wouldn’t confess such sins on return to the monastery.

"So, they had quite a good system going, as long as neither of them bothered the other fellow too much. They would travel the local area collecting money from the peasants (often making up their own figures and pocketing the extra).

"Then they would head to the hostelry to rest, and this is when the real fun would begin. They would drink, eat, and gamble freely, without fearing God's - or the abbot's - watchful eye. As the alcohol flowed though, often so did the arguments, which would frequently break out into violence.

"One evening, the two men returned to the hostelry, and began their routine of drinking and gambling away any extra money they’d collected. Usually at this point, the two men would stop, but something took over them that night, and they continued to drink and gamble with the taxation money. Soon enough they began to argue, shouting at each other about who deserved the cash.

"With both tempers and voices raised, the argument soon escalated into violence. One of the monks threw a punch, and the other monk soon followed suit. Soon enough fists were flying, accompanied by kicking and shouting and even biting - it was a ferocious affair, so much so the witnesses feared to split the two up in case they got caught in the crossfire.

"The struggle ensued, and quite suddenly the two men fell, in tandem, down a flight of stone stairs. As they tumbled, they still fought, before hitting their heads on the steps and dying from impact.

"The villagers buried the men in the churchyard, in a grave marked by two stone slabs, both carved with a simple cross.

"However, their spirits haven’t left the village - for the two are frequently seen wrestling, punching, and kicking each other with reckless abandon, as if they are desperate to one-up the other and inflict the most damage.

"This is a unique story; however, it contains familiar motifs which would have been understood at the time of the story’s conception. The burley fighting monks of Easthope is a tale of clerical greed, excess and divergence from ways of the true church.

"These were real criticisms of monastic communities, and there were certainly concerns regarding the behaviour of churchmen throughout the period prior to the dissolution of the monasteries."

Read more of Amy's work at nearlyknowledgeablehistory.blogspot.com.

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