The Devil Dwells in Widecombe

"The Devil Dwells in Widecombe"

On the subject of tornadoes the midwestern United States has the dubious honor of being the world—recognized top achiever in all categories: number, severity, casualties, and damage. However, tornadoes have occurred at on time or another throughout the world.

Though less frequently, tornadoes have been recorded in the British Isles. Over many centuries they have occurred at the rate of about two every three years. The earliest authenticated tornado struck London on October 17, 1091, blowing down about 600 houses and churches. But in the entire violent saga of British tornadoes the most macabre tragedy of all occurred in a small English village.

The tornado struck on Sunday morning, October 21, 1638, at Widecombe—in—the—Moor in the Darnoor region of Devonshire. The congregation had gathered in the church, and services had just begun when, without warning, everything went black and the building was hit by extremely violent winds and lighting. As the lightning struck, a ball of fire moved through the church and burst with a thunderous explosion.

Scores of people were killed and injured when the tornado struck the church. The roof and tower were wrecked, and rock and mortar showered down inside the building. People were snatched into the air, hurled against the pillars, and dismembered or smashed beyond recognition. The carnage was completed by the ball lightning.

(The ball of fire, or ball lightning, is an unusual phenomenon of lightning that occurs immediately after a strike. A luminous ball, about six inches in diameter, may float through the air or roll across the ground or along a fence. After several seconds it disappears, occasionally with a violent explosion. There has been no satisfactory explanation, but those who experience ball lightning do not forget.)

Altogether the mayhem lasted only seconds, during which time more than sixty people were killed. The benumbed survivors stood looking at the mass destruction with uncomprehending horror. The smell of the smoldering ruin, brimstone from the ball lightning, was to the people of that day the calling card of the devil himself. Many were thoroughly convinced that Judgment Day had finally arrived.

Centuries later a schoolchild in Devonshire was asked by his teacher, "What do you know of your ghostly enemy?" He replied, "If you please, ma'am, he lives in Widecombe."

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth