The Legend of Bosham's Bell, Sussex
The historic little port of Bosham once had a monastery, and still has one of the oldest churches in England, a Saxon structure reputed to have been built atop, and incorporating parts of, a Roman church. The most celebrated legend associated with the place concerns its lost bell.
The story goes that a thousand years and more ago the Vikings raided the village, the inhabitants in panic fleeing to leave it undefended. The Vikings thus had the time to take everything they could load on their longship, and this included the great tenor bell from the monastery, which was carefully dragged to the shore and hauled aboard the craft.
As the Norsemen sailed away, nearing the entrance to the harbour, the monks who had by now returned to their premises rang out a great peal of bells: was this in celebration at their deliverance, or was it rung in reverse as a curse upon the unholy thieves? Whatever the motive, the departing bell toppled in the ship, ringing out a great long note, then crashing through the deck, sinking the ship and drowning all aboard (though a variant on the tale has the deck closing after the bell, miraculously letting not a single drop of water in, and converting the Vikings in an instant to Christianity).
Years later a wise man consulted by the village elders suggested there was a way of retrieving the lost bell: 12 pure white oxen should be used to drag it ashore. The bell was located, a rope attached, and the 12 white oxen pulled until the tenor bell was near the shore. Then the rope snapped and it rolled down the sands to its old resting place – one of the oxen was found to have a single black hair on it. A rather sexist version of the tale has the stipulation being that no woman’s voice be heard while the bell was being recovered by the oxen, but one woman watching could not resist shouting out in joy as the bell was seen nearing the shore, and so the spell – and the rope - was broken.
Two additional elements of the legend have grown up: that the bell beneath the sea replies to the ringing of bells in the village, though the more prosaic amongst us suggest this may be the echo from the opposite shore; and that boats dropping anchor over the Bell Hole as the resting place is known will have the anchor seized or caught by the object, and be unable to retrieve them.
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