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Demonic Intervention
Folklore or Fact?

The story of a new church being moved to an alternative site is not an uncommon one. The legend can be found in most counties around the country at least once. The perpetrator of the movement was usually said to be Old Nick or a group of fairies, though sometimes it was demons, pixies or the Almighty himself. St. Michael often saved the day. Well known versions of the tale include those from Christchurch (Hants) and Brentor (Devon).

In Berkshire a similar story is told of West Hanney (near Wantage). The original Parish Church was to be built at East Hanney just down the road, but at night the people of West Hanney removed all the building materials to their village. The following night East Hanney retaliated, and so it continued until finally East Hanney gave in. West Hanney Church is twelfth century, whereas East Hanney didn't have a place of worship until 1856, so perhaps the legend is true.

I have been unable to ascertain whether there has ever been a church near the appropriate crossroads in Water Oakley; but if the story is correct it must have been a very long time ago. Bray Church dates, like Winkfield, to circa 1300 (perhaps the Devil was passing through Berkshire at the time?). However it was built on the site of an older Norman church, and before this a Saxon church mentioned in the Domesday Book stood on the site. According to the story of the Saxon carving, the Builderswell church must have been pre-conquest, so perhaps this is the period we should examine. The Queen at this time could well have been Queen Edith the wife of Edward the Confessor, who had strong connections in the area and was traditionally said to have been buried upstream at Hurley Priory, where her ghost had been seen. Another Saxon Queen well known in East Berkshire was Emma, the Queen to both Aethelred and Canute, whom legend says had a palace at Wargrave. Were either of these the ladies who rode out from Windsor? If so they would have come from the Royal Manor at Old Windsor rather than Windsor Castle which was not built until after the Norman Conquest.

The Chantry Chapel of St. Mary at Bray, however, dates from approximately the same time as the present church (c.1300). So perhaps even if the main church was at Builderswell, when moved to Bray it must have been a case of rebuilding a small chapel rather than building a brand new church. An alternative version of the tale tells how the church was always at Bray village, and it was when an attempt was made to move it that supernatural forces caused the edifice to be raised on the original site. This would explain all. The question remains though, who was the Queen who caused the church's demolition? In 1300, England had not long had a new Queen, Margaret of France the seventeen year old bride of the aging Edward I. It just so happens that she had been presented with manor of Bray in 1299. If she was the lady in question, this would explain why she had never seen the tatty church before, and she would have been in quite a position to have it rebuilt. the church pamphlet tells us that Queen Margaret was patron of Bray Church in 1293, when the Court Rolls record the church was rebuilt. So here we find confirmation. Unfortunately though, there is something amiss with this statement, for England had no Queen in 1293!

As to the small carving within the wall of the Chantry Chapel, whether you take it to be a bull, horse or dog, there is some doubt as to whether it is in fact Saxon. Some say it is Norman, while one theory states that it may be a Roman carving connected with a Roman Cemetery discovered in Bray some years ago. In most Roman cemeteries would be found a shrine to Hecate, an Earth-Godess associated with the Dead. She was usually depicted with three faces, carrying a torch and accompanied by one or several dogs! Could the carving be from her shrine?

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Next: Places associated with the Legend


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