Lower Halstow

Lower Halstow church is right beside the Thames marshes*
Lower Halstow church is right beside the Thames marshes

Lower Halstow is a little village that is neither beautiful nor historic. Attractive enough in its setting by the estuary, it is overshadowed by the surrounding towns and villages - yet in its ancient church is a fascinating reminder of the days when winds of heresy drifted across the Continent and the Christian church was fighting for its life.

The Manichaean faith, in its later forms of Alibgensian and Bogomil heresies, was attractive to many because of the austere piety of its leaders, the perfectii, and because it appeared to be simpler and more understandable than Christianity. It was very strong in the south of France, less strong elsewhere, and we would say that it never came to Britain were it not for a strange graffiti left on the wall of the church of Lower Halstow.

The exact significance of this bit of minor vandalism is the subject for debate. Most scholars agree that it depicts a creature from Manichaean mythology, but who scratched it into the wall - a passing merchant, a hopeful missionary, a disgruntled peasant - we do not know. Was it a statement of faith? The idle jotting of someone bored with an over-long service? A sign for others that the village was fruitful ground?

We'll never know.