History Blog

Advent Day 8 - Brent Pelham Church

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The church of St Mary the Virgin in the village of Brent Pelham in Hertfordshire looks rather unremarkable from the outside. Like a lot of churches in theBrent Pelham Church, Herts local area the walls are flint rubble, while the square tower has buttresses and a Hertfordshire spike. Inside the church is a collection of memorials, including one from the 17th century depicting Mary and Ann, the two wives of a man named John Rowley, and some 18th century marble memorials.

The real gem in St Mary's though is in the wall opposite the door. Here you can find a large niche in the wall and a carved black marble slab, believed to date from the 13th century. This slab marks the tomb of Piers Shonks, a local dragon slayer.

Piers was reportedly the local Lord of the Manor. When a dragon began to torment the local people, Piers rode out to fight it. After a hard-fought battle he succeeded in killing the dragon, but as soon as the dragon died the devil appeared in front of Piers. In some stories the dragon was the devil, in others it was simply a tool sent by the devil to torment people. Either way, the devil was angry with Piers for winning, and swore that when Piers died he would come back to claim his soul, regardless of whether he was buried inside the church, or outside in the church ground.

To get around this threat, Piers had a tomb cavity built inside the church walls, and was interred there when he died. By being buried in the wall he was neither inside the church, nor outside it, and so the devil couldn't get him. Although the tomb slab is from the 13th century the date "1086" was carved in to it, along with Piers' name.

Piers Shonks, Brent Pelham

Setting aside the dragon story, there also appears to be little information about anyone in the local area named Piers. Brent Pelham was actually home to three manors known as Greys, Chamberlyns, and Beeches. The original owner of the tomb probably came from one of these manors, but their name has been lost in favour of a dragon slayer.

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