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The Penitent Vicar

by Bernadette Weyde

One of the most dramatic episodes ever witnessed in a Manx church was acted in old St. Patrick’s of Jurby in November 1661. The vicar, Sir William Crowe, had been found guilty of going to England and leaving the church serviceless, of slandering the parishioners and of other grave misconduct (one unusual charge was that he had sung ‘a psalm of destruction’ against John Teare of Ballateare). In addition he had antagonised the temporal power by giving indiscreet expression to his unorthodox opinions regarding the Lord of the Isle and the Monarchy.

He was reported to have said that the Earl of Derby was the greatest plunderer in England. When William Teare of Sartfield drank a toast to King Charles II who had been restored to the throne a few months before, Sir William refused to pledge him and said:


“Drink to the Lord Fairfax, for he is the best Lord that ever came over to the Island or ever shall come.”


He was suspended and chastened by deprivation of the fruits of his benefice; in due time he presented an appeal for mercy. A few months later the Bishop, being assured that his repentance was genuine, removed his suspension, conditional on the performance of Penance. This consisted of confession in Jurby Church in the presence of the Vicar-General, Sir Robert Parr, and Ewan Curghey.

The vicar knelt humbly before his parishioners and, addressing them in Manx and English, begged them to grant him forgiveness for his flagrant misbehaviour. The assembly of decent country people sitting on their benches in the dimly lit old church must have listened with mixed feelings to the wayward shepherd on his knees at the chancel steps – at once embarrassed at the spectacle of his abasement, yet gratified, in the way of human nature, that retribution had fallen on one who had neglected and ill-treated them. But they displayed magnanimity of spirit which the occasion demanded and agreed to overlook his past misdeeds. When the Vicar-General and his colleague reported to Bishop Rutter that the vicar had purged his offence, they added that all the congregation were well pleased.

There are instances of more protracted penances. In 1713 William Macnameer had moved to Ballaugh where he had made himself notorious by gross misbehaviour. He was sentenced to forty days in St. German’s dungeon and to stand at Jurby Church door during service time every Sunday and holy day for a whole year, clad in the white sheet.

(source: IOM Natural History & Antiquarian Society Proceedings Vol V No.1 1942-1946); artwork is The Skating Minister by Sir Henry Raeburnb)

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