Newchurch-in-Pendle is an ancient village in the North of England, close to where several of the Lancashire Witches once lived and roamed. It has been a religious center since Druid days with the first Christian building appearing around 1250. In 1544 a stone chapel was dedicated by the Bishop of Chester, possibly with the original tower. Then a gallery was added in 1915, though the current St. Mary’s Church that stands here today has been restored and renovated many times throughout the centuries.
The most fascinating feature is the carving on the west face of the tower (under the clock face) – a large eye said to symbolize the all-seeing Eye of God. In earlier years though, this may have been a talisman to ward off evil from the local cunning folk who were forced by law to attend services here every Sunday. Today, St. Mary’s is also one of the few remaining churches that still celebrates the medieval Rushbearing Festival with a special service each August.
The graveyard contains the headstones of many old families. The Nutter plot (dated 1694) likely contains the descendants of Alice Nutter, one of the witches executed in 1612. From this consecrated soil, another witch – Old Chattox – supposedly stole twelve teeth that she later traded with her rival, Old Demdike.
In later times the village funeral processions were led by two black horses, and when these were spotted coming over Nanny Maud Hill the church bells began tolling The Passing Bell.
The Bone Room opens onto the graveyard and for many years served as the Charnel House – a place where human remains were stored. These were skeleton parts that had either been dug up by accident, or intentionally removed to make room in a plot for fresh bodies.
St. Mary’s Church is one of two major landmarks to have outlived the old belief in magic. The other – providing its majestic backdrop – is the famous Pendle Hill.
Clayton, John A. A History of Pendle Forest and the Pendle Witch Trials (Lancashire: Barrowford Press, 2007)
Stansfield, Andy. The Forest of Bowland & Pendle Hill (Devon: Halsgrove House, 2006)
“St. Mary’s Church, Newchurch in Pendle.” Wikipedia, accessed 3/23/2015