How a fat Friar outwitted the Devil
who flew off with his church

The old town of Over has long since disappeared from prominence, having been incorporated for several centuries into Winsford. The historian and traveller, William Webb remarked in the 17th century that ‘Ouver standeth of the east end of Delamere Forest, not far from the River Weaver’.

From the 13th century, Over was a town under the jurisdiction of Vale Royal Abbey and the story goes that Over Church was literally snatched from under the noses of the monks, by the Devil!
It appears that the Devil, who had a special spite against the Abbey, tore the church from its foundations and flew off with it in his arms.

The affrighted monks alternately prayed and cursed, but failed to stop him. Suddenly, out pealed the Abbey bells and the Devil, always scared by holy music, dropped his burden.

The abbot and his monks, fearing the utter destruction of their beloved building, loudly called upon St Chad, to whom the church was dedicated, and in answer it floated earthward, guided by the angels, ‘light as the breeze-borne thistledown, as soft as a flake of snow’, and landed safely on the spot where it now stands, a mile from its former site!

The Devil obviously spent a good deal of time tricking and tempting the good folk from around the precincts of Vale Royal Abbey into wicked ways. However, the proverbial shoe was on the other foot when he ran into a Franciscan friar who was taking a rest by the old stone cross at Marton.

Rather like Friar Tuck of Robin Hood legend, Friar Francis liked food and wine... in the largest quantities possible. He was just tucking into his bread and cheese, and thinking about the salmon in the River Weaver, when a voice called out:

‘How’s your appetite?’
It was the Devil and he wanted the friar’s soul.
‘Promise me whatever I want and it’s yours,’ responded the friar.
‘Done,’ said the Devil.

So Father Francis listed his three wishes. He wanted good food and wine for the rest of his life and, secondly, perfect health and good company. The Devil agreed. ‘Now what’s your third wish?’

‘One dozen hay bands picked by yourself from Marton Sands and nowhere else,’ said the wily friar who knew that hardly a blade of grass ever grew in the sandy terrain.

The upshot was that Friar Francis lived a life of contentment with an ever widening girth to prove it. He did not sell his soul and to this day the Devil is still searching for his hay bands.