Every church’s ambition is to attract new members to swell their congregations! In the case of St. Andrew’s Hamble, however, we are not quite so sure as our latest addition to the congregation is ‘out of this world’!
Ever since the departure of Father John into a well earned retirement at the end of December last year there have been a number of sightings of this new member of our congregation. The apparition is in the form of a hooded monk. Now we shouldn’t be surprised at that because our church was originally built by French monks from Thiron in 1109A.D. shortly after the Norman conquest, and was in their charge for many years.
Our new member of the congregation is certainly not shy and has appeared twice during services and twice in our Priory Centre. The Priory Centre is where we hold functions and where the congregation gathers after a service for coffee and a get together. The Centre was built over the foundations of the original monastic buildings so our new guest must feel at home.
Personally I have not actually seen the ghost but on the occasions that it appeared during a service I was officiating at both of them! On the first occasion I was celebrating communion by extension in our Lady Chapel on a Tuesday evening in May.
The Lady Chapel is fairly new; by St. Andrew’s standards, being a Victorian addition to the church and from the altar it is impossible to look into the main church building. I was about four or five minutes into the service when I heard the door latch operate in what I assumed to be the main church door. It’s a dead giveaway to anybody trying to sneak in late and I am fairly used to being interrupted by it. The latch noise was followed by footsteps and I was in two minds whether to stop and let the latecomer join us, but I decided to press on so as not to distract the worship of those who had arrived on time. But the late comer never arrived in the chapel and there was something distinctly odd going on but I could not put my finger on what was troubling me at the time. I soon became immersed in the service but I was aware that my congregation were not their usual reverential selves.
After the service ended three of the ladies present, one being my wife Vera, asked me what I had seen. I replied that I had seen nothing, but had only heard the door latch and the footsteps in the nave. They then told me that one of them had quite clearly seen the figure of a hooded monk passing down the nave of the church. Another said she saw just a shadowy figure and my wife said she had seen something out of the corner of her eye which she couldn’t identify but she felt a sudden drop in temperature and all the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. A fourth lady present claimed to have seen nothing apart from the look on the faces of the three that had!
It was only a little later that I realised what it was that I had found odd about the footsteps that I heard, and that was that I shouldn’t have heard them at all! I had clearly heard footsteps on a flagstone floor, impossible in our church which is fully carpeted throughout!
On another occasion, during choral evensong, a lady member of the congregation became aware that somebody was standing just behind her in the aisle. s she turned to see who the late comer was she distinctly saw the hooded figure of a monk standing there, she noticed in particular his sandalled feet but before she could look further the figure faded away. In the meantime I blissfully carried on with the service completely unaware of our visitor.
If you look at our reconstructed photograph you will see that we have placed our ghostly apparition just in front of a little Norman arched doorway. Originally this doorway led to the monastic buildings which were to the north of the church and would have been the main entrance for the monks to use when entering the church. Liz was sat on the corner of the third pew from the front next to the aisle when she saw the figure standing slightly behind her. You can also clearly see from the photograph that the floor of the church is fully carpeted. Interestingly you can also see in the photograph a larger arch above the Norman arched doorway. This is in fact all that remains of a ‘flying pulpit’ where a monk would have appeared to address the congregation. In 1377 the French, having raided Southampton, stopped off at Hamble and set fire to St. Andrew’s and left the Priory a plundered ruin. The church lay roofless until the turn of the century when it was repaired by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester. The monastic buildings, that originally lay to the north of the building were not rebuilt and the monks constructed their new monastic buildings on the south side of the church over the foundations of which the present ‘Priory Centre’ stands.
We may never know why we have been privileged with the addition of our new member of the congregation, or for what reason he has suddenly found the need to manifest himself amongst us. We feel sure he means us no harm and we feel privileged to be in his presence. I will of course keep you informed of any further developments, but in the meantime I would ask you to pray for him in the hope that he can find whatever he is looking for and rest in the peace of Our lord.
Watch this space!