Monsters of Europe: Black Shuck…found?

Black Shuck,Copyright 2015 Liz Vitale

Although his howling makes the hearer’s blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound.

Black Shuck is the legendary terror hound of the British Isles and is one of its many ghostly night-roaming dogs.The name “Shuck” derives from the Old English word scucca, which means “demon”, or from local dialect meaning “shaggy”.

Black Shuck is famous for its appearance during a storm on August 4th,1577 at the Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh. The legend says that thunder caused the doors of the church to burst open and a huge, snarling black dog crashed in and ran through the congregation, killing a man and a boy, before it fled when the steeple collapsed. A later encounter on the same day at St Mary’s Church, Bungay was described in ‘A Straunge and Terrible Wunder’ by the Reverend Abraham Fleming in 1577:

“This black dog, or the devil in such a likeness, running all along down the body of the church with great swiftness, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible form and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling upon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them both at one instant clean backward, in so much that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely died.”

Stories about the beast grew and soon Black Shuck was said to roam the countryside spreading death and terror as a giant, ferocious hell-hound with flaming red eyes,shaggy black hair and savage claws,striking fear into the hearts of all who crossed its path. Just a single glance from it was enough to inflict fatal curse; the briefest encounter thrust the life from any victim.

But of course, these stories are only just that…stories. Stories to keep children from straying too far from the house. Stories to keep travelers from unsafe roads at night. Stories to spook the unfaithful.

Or are they?

Did the horrific seven-foot black dog exist only in folklore … or was it flesh and blood?

Recently, in a dig among the ruins of Leiston Abbey in Suffolk, remains of an extremely large dog were found. The location is a few miles from the two churches where Black Shuck is said to have killed worshippers during that powerful thunderstorm in August 1577. Estimates suggest it would have  stood 7ft tall on its hind legs.

Radio carbon dating tests will now give an exact age for the bones; results that will serve either to enhance the shaggy dog stories – or perhaps to support the far less entertaining theory that in the grave lies a 16th century abbot’s beloved old hunting dog.

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