Praise be! 85-year-old defies death threats from Satanists to spend 22 years returning 1,000-year-old derelict church to its former glory
- Bob Davey began work on the Norfolk tower when he retired 22 years ago
- 1000-year-old church last used in 1930s before it was hit by a German bomb
- When he first entered he was horrified to find satanic temple and pagan altar
- The Christian guarded church from cult members who once drove car at him
- During restoration he discovered dazzling religious murals hidden by plaster
It has been struck by a German bomb, torn apart by American GIs and left in squalor by a pagan cult.
So when the ruins of an ancient church were discovered in thick woodland by Bob Davey, he could have been forgiven for thinking its fate had already been sealed.
Instead, the determined church warden used his retirement to embark on a 22-year crusade to return the dilapidated building to its former glory – despite receiving a death threat from the cult.
Determined: Bob Davey has spent 22 years restoring the church in Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk to its past glory
But even he was surprised when his noble DIY effort threw up an unexpected gift, unearthing ancient paintings inside its ivy-covered walls.
The images depict the Holy Trinity and the Last Judgment and are thought to have been created in 1090, soon after the Norman Conquest.
Believed to be the oldest wall paintings in Britain, they have seen the tiny church become an international tourist attraction. They have even earned Mr Davey, 85, an MBE after Prince Charles made several visits to the church.
Mr Davey heard about the tower in 1992 when his late wife Gloria came across it on a ramble near Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk, with her WI group.
Transformation: The church was engulfed in ivy in 1992 and looks like a different building today
Thought to have been last used in the 1930s, it had no roof, door or windows. Mr Davey and his wife had to push through piles of rubbish outside to get in.
They were horrified to find that a satanic temple and pagan altar had been made in the church, which was built around 1000 AD.
Mr Davey managed to gain protected status for the church, then sold his antiques business so he could work on its restoration.
Significant: The ancient wall painting shows good souls leaving their graves on a journey to heaven
New chapter: A photo of the purification service in 1992 – following the church’s occupation by satanic cults
He said: ‘I feel I have a relationship with the building. I have got a funny feeling that I was always meant to save it.’
Recounting his first encounter with the property and the pagan imagery within, Mr Davey said: ‘This annoyed me intensely. I’ve been a Christian all my life and wasn’t putting up with this on my patch.’
Because the site was still consecrated he was able to start services straight away, the first being a purification event following the pagan rituals.
Dilapidated: The church’s interior walls are cracked and worn by the years in these pictures from 1992
Early days: Two years into the project, in 1994, the church’s roof has been cleared of ivy
He initially had to guard the property at night to deter the cult members, who once drove a car at him and sent him a death threat. He even enlisted the Territorial Army to guard it for a time after the pagans smeared the walls with blood.
In spite of some local opposition, he built a road to the church under an old law stating that any consecrated site should have an access route.
Progress: This photo from 1996 shows the roof of the Norfolk church being rebuilt
The church today, with a cross in the yard to ward off devil worshippers (left) and an upside-down cross carved by satanic cult members on the inside church wall (right)
He has also faced opposition from church authorities, who initially wanted the building to be torn down.
It was during his attempts to fix a wall that had been cracked by a German bomb that Mr Davey noticed the unique paintings.
He soon realised the walls were covered in dazzling religious murals that had been covered in whitewash plaster.
A large section of the artwork is yet to be uncovered as Mr Davey battles to raise the funds for the specialist teams needed to remove the plaster.
He added: ‘It’s cost me a lot of money, it’s cost me no end of time, but look what I’ve got out of it. You’ve got to do something when you retire – you can’t sit around watching the telly all day.’
Bob and his late wife Gloria in 2005 – it was Gloria who first told her husband about the abandoned church
Recounting his first encounter with the property and the pagan imagery within, Mr Davey said: ‘This annoyed me intensely. I’ve been a Christian all my life and wasn’t putting up with this on my patch’
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