A hound from hell has allegedly plagued the area of England known as East Anglia for centuries. In 1577, reports of a large demonic dog that had killed multiple people struck fear into the deeply religious residents of the region. They described the dog as being 7 feet tall, with glowing red eyes and the ability to strike people lifeless in an instant, which it had reportedly done in two local churches. It was known as the Black Shuck.
When it comes to the Black Shuck hellhound legend, verifiable facts are few and far between, but reported sightings and stories abound. Even today, hundreds of Brits every year claim to have seen the Black Shuck while walking through the Fens and the foggy countryside.
So what are they really seeing? A ghostly hound, a huge stray dog - or perhaps an escaped panther? Whatever it is, in their minds they're witnessing an English legend from their childhoods come to life.
The most famous sightings of the Black Shuck date back to the late 1500s, though some believe it appeared with a hunting party made up entirely of ghosts all the way back in 1127. In a pamphlet written in 1578, Abraham Fleming described the beast as a "black dog or the [devil] in such a likeness."
The pamphlet detailed events of the previous year, when the Black Shuck reportedly attacked St Mary's Church in Bungay. According to Fleming, the dog appeared to have "wrung the necks" of two people kneeling in prayer.
On August 4, 1577, a ferocious thunderstorm struck the small Suffolk town of Bungay, bringing the threat of strong winds and fire from lightning strikes. The citizens were terrified and gathered in St Mary's Church to pray, but the church couldn't keep them safe.
According to the legend, the church doors flew open and a giant black hellhound charged inside, slaying parishioners as it made its way down the aisle. An old verse goes:
All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew
And, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew.
The demon dog then went on to the Blythburgh church about 12 miles away, where it took the lives of even more people and caused further damage.
Although no official records exist of the losses occurring that night, a church official did prepare a report that noted the passing of two men in the belfry of St Mary's, and both churches did suffer significant damage.
Today, the damage and mortality rates are attributed to the storm itself, but superstition was part of life in those days. It's possible that the damage was real while the cause turned into a metaphoric moral warning.
The Black Shuck has a mixed reputation. In the earlier days of the legend, the Shuck was known as a negative omen; in its first encounters, it was even said to have eliminated people directly.
Today, the Shuck's reputation has received an unlikely makeover. Some modern witnesses - particularly women - have reported that the Shuck acted as a protector and guided them home when they were lost at night.
Numerous witnesses have described the Black Shuck over the years. Most of the descriptions are consistent - except for the Shuck's eyes. While most agree that they glow bright red, some say the Shuck has only one giant eye in the middle of its head. The rest of the general description includes a roughly 7-foot-tall body, shaggy black fur, and a snarling mouth filled with sharp teeth.
Perhaps the most chilling part concerns the sounds the Shuck makes - or doesn't make. "Although his howling makes the hearer's blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound," according to a 1901 account.