Mysterious Gravestone of Ella Morse

On June 10 1981, the curious case of the cross at St Peter and St Paul in Swaffham was put under the spotlight. Frederick Sandell, who was the church sexton, reported the moving gravestone to the Eastern Daily Press in the summer of 1981 and they wrote an article on the issue that read in part, 

“Mystery surrounds the eerie turning in of a stone cross in Swaffham's parish churchyard,” the article read.

“The stone is situated between Sexton's House and the church, and was placed there when the churchyard was reorganised, when many of the older stones were arranged in neat lines to allow easier tidying of the grounds. But now the gravestone of Miss Ella Morse, who died at the age of 37 in 1852, is moving.

“The grass around the base of the cross lies flattened bearing evidence of a twisting action. Having turned through 90 degrees the white stone cross now faces north to south, in contrast to every other cross in the churchyard – even those right next to it.

Over the past seven years the cross has changed position and Mr Sandell's friends who make yearly visits to Swaffham always notice a definite change…although he has an open mind about the supernatural explanations, local historian Mr Reg Drake, is trying to find something about Miss Ella Morse.

Ella Morse was the daughter of John Morse who was a Swaffham brewer. He apparently paid £400 (for comparison, that would equal over $16,000 in today’s money compared to the 1850s) to have a stained glass window put in the church chancel in memory of his daughter and he put brasses in the church in her memory as well.

Mr Drake's brother, Eric Drake, feels there may be more to these memorials than meets the eye. He suspects the gifts might have been ways of easing the conscience of Ella's family – none of the many daughters buried in the churchyard are commemorated in such a way.

While it seems as though she was dearly loved by her family who wanted to honor her memory, there may have been another reason for the gifts, such as maybe Ella was mad when she died or perhaps her family wanted to try to rid her from an awful sin that she may have committed. While there isn’t any evidence that she was a witch, the inscription on her gravestone is similar to the words chanted during witch burials in order to protect them from harmful spirits. Her stone read, “Ella Morse, September 8 MDCCLII, Aged XXXVII, By thy Cross and Passion, By thy precious Death, Good Lord deliver us.”

There are other supernatural theories as to why the headstone may have moved, such as the cross may not have belonged to Ella at all since the stones had previously been rearranged, so perhaps it was trying to get away from the unknown body that lay underneath it. And others believe that there is a more natural explanation as to why it moved 90 degrees, although none seem to make perfect sense so it still remains a mystery.


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