St Mary’s Church has been one of Bungay’s most beautiful buildings since Gundreda, Countess of Norfolk, and widow of Hugh Bigod, of Bungay Castle, established the church in the late 12th century.
Though the church itself is now redundant, the building is cared for by the Friends of St Mary’s Church, who organise tours of the church’s stunning interior. As well as a place of worship, the church is also known for a terrifying paranormal incident in the 16th century: the legend of the black dog.
The church faced diminishing congregations in the 20th century and was forced to close to worshippers, but in its heyday it was at the very heart of Bungay life. The church was just one part of a complex of buildings that included a Priory, chapel, refectory, guesthouse, hospital and dormitory, all of which ran the whole length of St Mary’s Street. The nuns who lived in the priory provided care for the sick and needy, education for children and money, food and clothing for the poor.
The main building dates from the 14th – l5th century. The great tower, rising to approximately 90ft. high was completed by c. 1480. After the demise of the priory it became the parish church. It was during this period that the black dog appeared to the congregation.
On Sunday 4th August 1577 a thunderstorm raged over Bungay as worshippers gathered in the nave of St Mary’s Church for evensong. Lightning struck the church, and a ferocious black dog suddenly appeared in the aisle, dashing round the church, attacking the congregation, howling and snarling. At the height of the chaos, the dog suddenly disappeared, only to reappear again just as suddenly in the church at Blytheburgh over 12 miles away, again howling and raging and attacking members of the congregation.
The dog has been associated with Black Shuck, the legendary dog that supposedly haunts the coasts of Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk. An image of the Bungay Black Dog has been incorporated into Bungay’s coat of arms, and has been used in the titles of various enterprises associated with Bungay.