Review of ‘Holy Ghosts: Classic Tales of the Ecclesiastical Uncanny’ edited by Fiona Snailham

An enjoyably hair-raising collection of supernatural stories set in churches or relating to monks, priests, etc. There is something particularly frightening about evil acts taking place in sacred sites, which as the editor points out in the introduction, are places of sanctuary where you should be protected, not at risk of harm. The stories I was most impressed with are marked with asterisks.

Book cover showing creepy carvings.

‘The Sexton’s Adventure’ by Sheridan Le Fanu – a gravedigger in an Irish town is pursued by the spectre of his former drinking buddy.*

‘The Parson’s Oath’ by Mrs Henry Wood – slow-burn unmemorable tale with too many characters.

‘The Poor Clare’ by Elizabeth Gaskell – long rambling story of Catholics and curses.

‘A Story Told in a Church’ by Ada Buisson – creepy gothic story told by a governess while barricaded into a church.*

‘In the Confessional’ by Amelia B Edwards – grim tale of murderers, hauntings and madness in Rhineland.*

‘Man-Size in Marble’ by E Nesbit – sad and spine-chilling story of newlyweds who fall victim to a legend of an ancient church.

‘The Face of the Monk’ by Robert Hichens – a sinful man discovers he has a monk doppelganger and develops religious mania.*

‘An Evicted Spirit’ by Marguerite Merington – the spirit of a young woman attends her own funeral and observes her grieving family.

‘The Duchess at Prayer’ by Edith Wharton – a story set in Italy which was very descriptive and long-winded.

‘The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral’ by M R James – I skipped this because I never enjoy M R James’ stories.

‘The Cathedral Crypt’ by John Wyndham – a couple locked in a creepy church witness a dreadful act, with a horrifying twist.*

I was disappointed that I’d already encountered E Nesbit’s story before, as it was included in another volume of the same series, Weird Woods. I don’t think any story should be used more than once, regardless of how good it is.

Published in 2023 as part of the British Library’s ‘Tales of the Weird’ series.

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