Archaeologists working at the remains of Leiston Abbey in Suffolk have uncovered the skeletal remains of a huge dog-like creature. Measuring over seven feet in length it is estimated that the animal would have weighed in excess of 200lb in life and preliminary dating of the bones indicates that they were interred around the turn of the 16th/17th Century. This of course would tie in with the most famous appearance of the devil dog of East Anglia which occurred in the year 1577. On August 4th that year, during a great storm which was battering the east coast of England, Old Shuck as he was known by that date, is said to have burst through the doors of the church at Blythburgh accompanied by a great clap of thunder. Running the length of the church he killed two members of the congregation before leaving just as the church steeple crashed down through the roof. Scorch marks said to have been left by the fiend can still be seen on the church doors to this day. Loping off into the storm Shuck reappeared a short while later at the church in nearby Bungay. A contemporary account of this attack was published under the title, ‘A Straunge and Terrible Wunder’ by the Reverend Abraham Fleming, the description from which deserves to be read in full!
“This black dog, or the divel in such a linenesse (God hee knoweth al whoworketh all,) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in somuch that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely dyed.”
‘They strangely dyed’ may have been a bit of an understatement, obvious the Reverend would struggle to get a job at one of today’s ‘red top’s!’
The earliest form of the name ‘scucca’ is an Anglo Saxon word meaning demon or malevolent spirit and although he is said to roam the byways of the modern counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex he comes from a long tradition of such beings. Shuck’s ‘bale-fire’ gaze is of course exactly the same description given to Grendel in the Anglo Saxon epic Beowulf where Grendel, ‘angrily advanced: out of his eyes stood an unlovely light like that of a fire.’
Many academics link the entry for 1127 in the Peterborough journal of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle with the Scucca and the wider phenomenon known across northern Europe as the ‘Wild Hunt’ in England, Wuotis Heer, Wotan’s Hunt in Germany and Åsgårdsreia, Asgard’s Ride in Norway. The description from 1127 is worth quoting in full.
“Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immediately after [Abbot Henry of Poitou’s arrival at Peterborough Abbey] – it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare – many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and their hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.”
Obviously in reality this particular skeleton belonged to a big dog, a Wolfhound I would guess, but in the time honoured tradition of all good journo’s I am not about to let the truth stand in the way of a good story!
Those who have read ‘Monsters,’ the final volume of my Beowulf trilogy ‘Sword Of Woden,’ will be aware that a minor plot line in the tale involves an explanation of the origin of the Scucca, the reason for its curse on the local people of East Anglia, and its link to a particular grave at the Anglian ship burial site at Sutton Hoo. Leiston Abbey lies about two miles from my house as the crow flies and Sutton Hoo less than ten miles to the south. It would seem that I got the location of the devil dog just about right!