Bride killed on church steps after wedding leaves newlyweds in fear of ‘curse’

A bride whose white dress turned red with blood on the church steps inspired a spooky wedding day ritual that persists to this day.

Superstitious women lay a flower on the tomb of Mary Whiddon after signing the register at a Devon church to ensure she does not haunt them.

The unlucky woman was chillingly murdered on her wedding day at the Church of St Michael the Archangel in Chagford on October 11, 1641.

After a brief ceremony, Mary stood on the steps of the church before a cheering crowd of loved ones when a shot rang out, piercing the dank, misty Dartmoor air.

Mary collapsed, a bright red spot of blood just above her heart shockingly visible through her pristine white wedding dress, DevonLive reports. Within seconds she was dead and her husband, married for just a few minutes, cradled her in his arms.

But who, on Mary's wedding day of all days, had perpetrated this awful crime — and why?

Mary Whiddon

Mary Whiddon came from a prosperous family in Chagford.

For generations, they had been local squires, and many of them are buried in the church. Their family home was the 13th-Century building which is now the Three Crowns Hotel, formerly known as Whiddon House.

Her parents were Oliver Whiddon and Margaret, née Crymes, formerly Coplestone. She had one brother, Rowland, and a sister, Margaret.

She was the granddaughter of Francis Whiddon, one of the first Englishmen who tried to settle in what is now America.

Mary was also the great granddaughter of Sir John Whiddon, sergeant for Henry VIII, and judge of the king's bench for Mary I and Elizabeth I.

She had apparently been courted by a man who possibly asked for her hand in marriage. Mary refused and, with there being no shortage of admirers, she chose another man to be her husband.

This was received poorly by her former suitor, who spent the coming months complaining bitterly to anyone who would listen about the match.

Despite his incessant complaining about his bad luck, many thought his ill-feeling towards Mary and her husband-to-be would subside once the wedding had taken place.

That day finally came in October, 1641. It was there, on the steps of the church, that he shot Mary dead with one bullet from a pistol.

Fact or fiction?

Quite what happened to Mary's killer is not known. In fact, although the story is widely acknowledged as being true, there is little to confirm it definitely happened.

Mary's tomb records that she died 'a matron, yet a maid', meaning she was married but still a virgin. However, with maid even now being a common Devon word for a young girl, this could just mean she was not very old when she died. In that case, it would translate as 'married, but young'.

The church's marriage and burial registers for the Civil War period are lost, and the only contemporaneous record is Mary Whiddon's undated will.

It mentions no husband, but as her maiden name is also thought to have been Whiddon, potentially meaning she married a cousin, it might have been written before her marriage was arranged.

The will shows no date or place. In it she bequeathed money to her siblings, her godchildren, the poor of Chagford, and the labourers of the parish. She also left a gold ring to her mother.

In 1971, a wedding guest staying at Whiddon Park awoke to find the ghostly apparition of a young woman dressed in a period wedding gown standing in the doorway of his room.

Many believe this is Mary haunting the area following her death.

What is known is that now, newly-wed brides often lay a flower on Mary's tomb after signing the register.

This is said to bring good luck to the marriage, and ensure the ghost of Mary Whiddon does not haunt them for years to come.

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