Lollard's Pit

Lollards Pit is a notable public house of Norwich. Its sign shows a couple of chaps burning in a fire- not the most appealing of advertising campaigns. The people in question, and to whom the pub’s name alludes, are the evangelical followers of John Wycliffe. Two centuries ahead of Martin Luther, Wycliffe preached justification by faith and the corruption of Rome long before his ‘protestant’ ideas were mainstream, here and abroad. His followers, called lollards perhaps because of their singing of psalms (‘lullabies’), were terribly persecuted by the Lancastrian kings. When found guilty of heresy and refusing to repent, the Church courts handed them over to the secular authorities to commit them to the flames. It was a truly terrible way to die; if one was fortunate, a relative got close enough to throw gunpowder, hastening the end. It would appear that in Norwich, the stakes were set in pits rather than in market squares. Perhaps this reduced the chance of buildings catching fire in a strong wind or the stink of burnt flesh from spoiling the dinners of the rich.

The word pit in scripture is sometime used to translate Sheol, along with such words as ‘grave’ and ‘hell’. It refers to the Hebrew understanding of the underworld, before New Testament revelation and the book of Daniel showed more. It was considered a gloomy, morose place, one which offered neither comfort nor merriment. Christ relieved Sheol of its believing captives before His resurrection, leaving behind the unrepentant and unbelieving. There you will find no lollards, those evangelical martyrs to truth. They may have perished in a pit, their ashes would even have been buried in one, but they went to be with Christ. On the other hand, they who condemned them for Christ’s truth may have been the darlings of medieval society, dressing in finest silks and ermine, but now the Pit is their abode, awaiting God’s terrible judgement.

My nonconformist roots and Yorkshire ancestry dissuaded me from drinking ale therein, but I would have raised a toast to those who died in a pit to be received in a palace.

Then He is gracious to him, and says, ‘Deliver him from going down to the Pit; I have found a ransom'. Job 33:24