Last year DigVentures, a London-based archaeology group, unearthed the bones of a gigantic dog from a shallow grave, about 20 inches deep, in the ruins of Leiston Abbey, Suffolk. Archaeologists estimate that the canine stood more than 7ft tall on its hind legs and weighed about 200 lbs. DigVentures researchers believe the canine bones likely date to when the abbey was active, so are likely medieval, but they are awaiting confirmation from testing. Pictures of dog’s skeletal remains can be seen here.
English folklore is full of stories about a supernatural dog, known as Black Shuck, that prowled the countryside around Leiston Abbey about 500 years ago. Due to the size and date of the bones many have speculated that these large canine remains could be connected to the legend of Black Shuck.
Hellhounds in mythology
Hellhounds, or devil dogs, are supernatural animals found throughout ancient mythology, folklore, and fiction. People have reported sightings and attacks throughout history. Witnesses describe them as having black fur, glowing eyes, supernatural strength and/or speed, large teeth, long claws, as well as smelling of brimstone.
Devil dogs are said to guard the entrance to the Underworld and the grounds of graveyards, they also hunt lost souls or protect a supernatural treasure. In European folklore, seeing a hellhound or hearing it howl is seen as a bad omen or the cause of death.
Hellhounds appear in the mythology and folklore of many cultures and have many names including the three-headed Cerberus in Greek mythology, the jackal-headed Anubis in Egyptian mythology, Garmr in Norse mythology, Perro Negro in Latin America, and Black Shuck in England. Most recently they show up in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the Grim in the Harry Potter series, and in scary movies like The Omen and Cujo.
The Folklore of Black Shuck
Black Shuck, Old Shuck, Old Shock or Shuck is the name given to a medieval hellhound in England. This devil dog was said to have black fur, flaming eyes, sharp teeth and claws, and great strength. Locals described sightings of Black Shuck in graveyards, forests, and roadsides. Shuck’s most famous attack happened on August 4th, 1577 at two churches in Blythburgh and Bungay in the English countryside, about seven miles from Leiston Abbey
During a storm on August 4th 1577, Black Shuck reportedly broke through the doors of Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh and charged through a large congregation. It was during this attack that he allegedly killed a man and a boy, right before the church steeple collapsed through the roof. It was during this attack that Black Shuck left claw marks on the north door of Holy Trinity Church that are still visible today.
The same day Black Shuck was rumored to have rampaged through a congregation in St Mary’s Church in Bungay, about 12 miles from Blythburgh. This attack was described in A Straunge and Terrible Wunder, a pamphlet written by the Reverend Abraham Fleming in 1577:
“This black dog, or the divel in such a linenesse (God hee knoweth al who worketh all,) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in somuch that even at a mome[n]t where they kneeled, they stra[n]gely dyed.”
Though musing about the earthly remains of a legendary creature or cryptid is always fun, this giant skeleton probably belonged to an abbot’s faithful canine companion or hunting dog. At best the sightings of this huge, domesticated dog by superstitious people may have sparked the rumors about Black Shuck
Kolirin, L. (2014). Hell Hound found: Bones of an ancient huge hound found at ruined abbey. Retrieved on June 1, 2014: http://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/476277/Hell-Hound-found-Bones-of-an-ancient-huge-hound-found-at-ruined-abbey
Osborne, H. (2014). Bones of 7ft Hound from Hell Black Shuck ‘Discovered in Suffolk Countryside.’ Retrieved on June 1, 2014: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/bones-7ft-hound-hell-black-shuck-discovered-suffolk-countryside-1448864
Potter, T. (2014). Leiston: Are these the bones of devil dog, Black Shuck? Retrieved on June 1, 2014: http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/leiston_are_these_the_bones_of_devil_dog_black_shuck_1_3600768
A version of this article appeared on Atlas Obscura