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In 1733 while workmen wee rebuilding a church in the Cumbrian village of Renwick in the north of England, a hideous winged monster burst out of its foundations. Resembling the mythical cockatrice of basilisk – a crowing, reptilian creature supposedly hatched by a toad from a leathery egg laid by a cockerel – it terrified the local people, who fled and barricaded themselves inside their homes. The monster continued to circle overhead, flapping its huge bat-like wings and emitting bloodcurdling shrieks.

Then John Tallantire, one of the workmen at the church, armed himself with a branch from the rowan, or mountain ash, which was reputed to have magical properties that would repel the evil eye and witches’ spells. In the churchyard he engaged the cockatrice in a fierce battle and eventually slew the beast. The grateful villagers rewarded Tallantire for his bravery by giving him freehold to his cottage and exempting him from parish dues.

A record of the remarkable episode is still kept in Renwick’s church, but a certain zoological identity for the cockatrice of Renwick has never been determined.

 


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