All Saints, Middleton, Essex
The Suffolk market town of Sudbury is bordered on two sides by the most intensely rural part of the neighbouring county of Essex. Here, remote from the bureacrats at County Hall in Chelmsford, the narrow lanes are unspoiled, the villages untouched. It is like stepping back in time.
Middleton, less than a mile to the south of Sudbury, was the scene of extraordinary events in the early 1930s. The Rector of the Anglican church in this parish of less than a hundred people, Father Clive Luget, reported a series of visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
An unmarried man, he arrived at Middleton from east London in 1931. On the evening of 11th December 1932, Luget witnessed the Crucifixion floating in light for five minutes above the graveyard, and the Blessed Virgin kneeling before it. Two days later, a seven year old boy called Francis Thornber had a vision of the church as it would have been in the Middle Ages. The Virgin Mary appeared to him, and gave him messages, but told him not to repeat them yet.
As the weeks went by, Luget and the Thornber boy had many more visions of the Virgin Mary. Sometimes the figure appears to be dazzling white, reported Luget. At other times, it is blue and about five feet six inches in height. The figure is of a young woman in a long flowing robe. Her hair is covered, but she has a most beautiful face. You cannot see her feet. With the appearance I had a distinct feeling of warm rays just as you feel when the sun strikes you.
The visions were publicised widely, and curious visitors flocked to Middleton. Luget hoped that the village would become the English Lourdes. He was probably partly motivated by the ghostly events attracting visitors to neighbouring Borley Rectory, a mile or so off, but also by the unprecedented success of Alfred Hope Patten's Marian shrine at Walsingham in Norfolk.
Luget's services became more and more extreme. He gave up all Anglican liturgies in favour of the Latin Mass, which was celebrated daily with clouds of incense. Congregations were rarely above 25 people, but hundreds of others would gather outside to see what would happen, including large crowds from the Ipswich-based Protestant Truth Society, who came to picket the Mass. Luget was reported to the Bishop of Chelmsford as a Papist.
Gradually, people lost interest, but Luget continued to have visions. Five clairvoyants saw Mary at the foot of the Cross in the Summer of 1933, and several extreme and bizarre people joined Luget's congregation. A hymn was written in honour of the visions. Luget obtained written statements from people who saw the visions, and were spoken to by the Blessed Virgin. Many were children, but one was a magistrate.
By the late 1930s, Luget was seeing angels on a daily basis. As his parishioners and acolytes lost patience, the congregations gradually fell away, until no one came to the services anymore. Luget claimed to be receiving written messages from a medieval monk, Brother Bramarte, which he had found written in pencil on the wall of the Rectory cellar.
With the parish moribund, and the church falling into an advanced state of decay, the Bishop intervened. Luget was quietly retired, and died on the 28 April 1952 in hospital in Sudbury.
Today, no trace of Luget's incumbency at Middleton survives. No mention of him, or the extraordinary events of those times, is to be found in the church guide, which appears to have been written shortly after Luget's departure. The strangest memory the unsuspecting visitor will take away of the church will be the large, tame black swan which patrols the graveyard.