By John Macklin
IN the cold light of a January dawn the nuns of St Morwena’s convent knelt to pray along the altar rail of their draughty stone chapel.
One space was left empty . . . but not for long.
As they prayed the nuns suddenly became aware that another figure, in the long grey habit of the order, was moving silently among them.
It took its place in the line of worshippers . . . joining in the responses.
But by the time the nuns rose to leave, the space on the altar rail was empty again.
The figure had vanished as mysteriously and silently as it had come.
But the nuns of St Morwena’s were not surprised.
They knew who the figure was. After all, they had prayed and worked and lived with her from over 30 years.
And when 65-year-old Sister Claire died two days after Christmas 1912 she vowed, with her dying breath, that she would return from the grave to worship at the daily services.
And that, according to numerous witnesses, is exactly what happened throughout the winter and early spring of 1912, when the convent of St Morwena’s in the western tip of Dorset, became one of the most celebrated venues for psychic researchers until the celebrated goings on at Borley Rectory.
Sister Claire had joined the order in 1882 when she was 35 and had become one of the most energetic and devout members of the convent.
Little was known of her background except that she had married at 20 and was widowed at 23.
From then on she gravitated towards the religious life and it was no surprise to her friends when she finally announced that she intended to take holy orders.
In the summer of 1912 Sister Claire became ill and “consumption” was diagnosed.
Despite her weak condition she insisted on attending the 5am chapel service each morning, which no doubt contributed to her continual decline.
By December, however, she was too ill and weak to leave her bed but insisted that “in the afterlife I shall ask God if I may return to join in your prayers”.
The Mother Superior, Sister Mary, was with Sister Claire when she finally died at dawn on December 27.
Later Sister Mary was to recall: “Her last words were: ‘I have been so happy here, and I want to come back’.”
Then she died. She closed her eyes and gave her a blessing.
“She was a fine woman and I mourned her loss both personally and for the convent.”
But the loss was not to last long.
Three days later, Sister Christina, who had worked in the convent gardens with Sister Claire for over 20 years, claimed to have seen her walking along a path leading to the walled kitchen garden.
“I was certain it was her but knew that it couldn’t be. Then she turned and smiled.
“I was so frightened I dropped to my knees, but she smiled and said:
“There is no need to be afraid. This is my earthly home. I will not harm you.
“I ran to fetch the Mother Superior but by the time we got back Sister Claire had vanished.”
In fact, the Mother Superior was the next person to see the phantom nun.
In a report to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Plymouth she wrote:
“I was in the chapel alone when I saw a figure praying at the altar. I recognised it immediately as Sister Claire.
“She turned to me and said: ‘I have come back to be among you. But I will not be here long. I hope you will accept me back again.’
“I said: ‘You know this is your home and if the Lord has seen fit to send you back then we rejoice that we are together again.”
“We then prayed together. After about five minutes she became less distinct and finally vanished from sight.
“I hesitate to write so categorically about a matter so surrounded by controversy but I can only report what I saw. Other sisters have witnessed similar incidents and have also written accounts of them which I am sending to you.
“I pray for guidance and seek your help and understanding in a matter which concerns everyone at St Morwena’s. Please tell us what we should do.”
The bishop replied that they must give this departed soul all the love and understanding you would accord to a human being.
“I will pray for guidance for you. In the meantime please keep me informed of all developments.”
In the weeks that followed, the ghost of Sister Claire prayed regularly with the nuns of St Morwena’s kneeling in the place which had traditionally been hers and joining fully in the devotions.
Then one evening, two months later, she appeared to Sister Christina and told her that she “had been called back to heaven”.
That night, shortly after midnight, the nuns were woken by what was described as a “heavy rumbling noise” coming from the chapel.
Hurrying through the door, their candles illuminated an astonishing scene.
A heavy timber chest had been lifted from the wall and now stood against the altar rail — at the precise spot where Sister Claire always prayed.
Now no one could kneel there — a timeless reminder of the nun who had come back from the dead to pray at the altar of St Morwena . . .