On a downcast Saturday afternoon we drove to Garway, a village fifteen miles or so away. It was something we’d planned to do for some time. I mean, who could resist a little known Knights Templar Church, stories of ghosts, and nine witches?
The Nine Witches of Garway are quite an item. It is said ‘There’ll be nine witches from the bottom of Orcop to the end of Garway Hill as long as water flows.’ But it is difficult to find anything more. It was difficult enough to find the Church, never mind witches. We ended up asking directions from an elderly man with interesting eyes. His directions were good, involving a lane and a walk across fields. And as we walked the weather improved.
The Church is tucked in obscurity, and yet it remains in use and has all the bric a brac you associate with small country churches: hymn books, parish notices and drawings from a local primary school.
These homely touches are beguiling, even deceptive. An experienced dowser who helped in research for the book English Magic 2008 reported experiencing a ‘shattering sense of evil’ in the area of the piscina, where the communion chalice was once washed. This sense of evil—or something—has been detected by others, most notably by that master of the supernatural story, M. R. James.
After a visit to Garway in 1917, he wrote to one of his hosts, Gwendoline:
‘We must have offended somebody or something at Garway, I think. Probably we took it too much for granted, in speaking of it, that we should be able to do exactly as we pleased. Next time we shall know better. There is no doubt that it is a very rum place and needs careful handling.’
To my knowledge, Dan Brown has yet to visit Garway, but it has everything from a sacred well to a dovecote with 666 holes. It also suffered the full force of the Papal war against the Knights Templar. Clement the Humane had already connived with the King of France, Philip the Fair, to launch a full-scale attack on the Templars. The Order was accused of witchcraft. They may have been guilty of witchcraft, or they may have had more wealth than both king and pope thought they deserved. A small hiccup in the form of Edward II emerged, when the pope tried to extend the persecution to England.
For all his faults, Edward II was reluctant to comply. Eventually he allowed the papal inquisition but banned torture, insisting that all arrested Templars be treated with kindness.
This resulted in a stern rebuke from the Pope: ‘We hear that you forbid torture as contrary to the laws of your land…I command you at once to submit these men to torture.’
Edward remained reluctant but submitted when money was given to him. Even kings have their price.
Torture may not guarantee honest confessions, but in this case they guaranteed the confessions the establishment desired, and the Knights Templar were extinguished, leaving only rumour and conjecture, and small mysterious churches like Garway.
You might enjoy a photo of what may be a ghoul or shadow on a window. You decide. The link is here, but you'll have to scroll down to the bottom of the page.