The storm raged, lightning flared. And in the centre of the church appeared a dog...Had it come from HELL?

Everyone was hoping for a storm. The air was heavy with summer heat. Humid. Sweaty. Close.

But some rain would change that.

It was a warm, muggy Sunday – 4 August 1577. The sun had been beating down on the small, Suffolk town of Bungay for days.

But as the weary afternoon wore on, darkness started to roll across the skies above Bungay.

At last, a storm to clear the air. But this was no ordinary summer squall.

Suddenly, the sky was pitch black. As the first hefty raindrops started to fall, the people of Bungay ran for cover. Some darted into the church of St Mary at the centre of the town.

With the rain came thunder. Then hailstones.

Inside the church, the people covered their ears and thanked their lucky stars they were dry.

And then, with an almighty crack that seemed to echo up to Heaven itself, lightning.

St Mary’s church shook. Its doors flew open. And out of nowhere there appeared in the heart of the church a dog.

A massive black dog. Its teeth were bared. Its eyes flaming and bright. A dog like the Devil. A dog surrounded by fire.

The people cowered. The beast snarled.

And then it raged through the church, tearing to pieces anyone who stood in its way.

Reports from the time don’t record just how many the dog killed at Bungay. But once it had finished clawing at the terrified townsfolk, it ran off. And, almost as if it was quaking in fear, the church steeple collapsed through the roof.

Nearby, a storm broke over the nearby village of Blythburgh. The dog appeared in the village church. This time, it’s known to have killed two men and a younger boy.

And then, the Black Dog of Bungay disappeared…

The townsfolk struggled with the devastation the hound had wreaked. A local churchman, Reverend Abraham Fleming, did his best to describe the events in his book A Strange and Terrible Wonder.

This black dog, or the devil in such a likeness, Reverend Fleming wrote, running all along down the body of the church with great swiftness…wrung the necks of two persons both at one instant clean backwards in so much even at the moment…they strangely died…

Yet, incredibly this wasn’t the first time the people of Bungay had met the fiendish hound.

Not actual dog (Photo: iStockphoto)

Not actual dog (Photo: iStockphoto)

He’d been seen once, centuries before, by a young lad running errands to Bungay Castle.

The same black fur, the same burning eyes and sharp teeth.

And then, he’d been seen in the corridors of the castle itself. Always snarling, always baring those fearsome fangs.

For some, there was no doubt. The dog was the devil – here on earth to cause havoc and pain. But for others, the answer wasn’t quite so simple.

And it stretched back many centuries, to the time of Hugh Bigod, the first Earl of Norfolk. The man who lived in Bungay Castle. And a man as famous for his wealth as his wickedness.

The year was 1135. King Henry I was dead and the country had fallen into civil war. A bitter and bloody war for the throne.

It was a lawless age, an age of fear and confusion. An age Hugh Bigod exploited. With a gang of rebels, Hugh Bigod spread fear throughout Suffolk and East Anglia. He burned villages, he captured people, tortured them and demanded money for their release. A medieval protection racket. He showed no mercy. And such was the cruel wickedness of the wayward Earl, the grass was said to wither in his shadow.

Eventually, the new king put an end to Hugh’s reign of terror and sent him on a crusade to the Holy Lands to atone his sins. Hugh Bigod died there in Israel.

Few people thought the soul of so evil a man would enter Heaven. It was said Hugh Bigod was condemned to spend the rest of eternity in the form of a ghostly dog.

A dog with black fur, burning eyes and bared teeth.

But the story of the black dog doesn’t end there, on that stormy August day in 1577…

A black dog was seen to appear again in nearby Cambridgeshire in the 1800s.

And even as recently as 1945.

John Harries was cycling from Dereham in Norfolk to RAF Swanton Morley when a black dog appeared on the roadside. A black dog with flaming eyes and bared teeth…

He may be the Devil. He may carry the soul of wicked Hugh Bigod. But some say the black dog of Bungay wonders through Suffolk and East Anglia still. At night time, through churchyards.

And when the thunder strikes…