Prayers said for tortured soul of 'axe' attacker

Prayers were said at Waltham Abbey today for the “tortured soul” of a crazed axeman who went on a wrecking spree in the historic church.

Prayers were said at Waltham Abbey today for the “tortured soul” of a crazed axeman who went on a wrecking spree in the historic church.

Services were going ahead as normal over the weekend and parishioners, some in tears, flocked to the abbey today, said priest Martin Webster.

Sunday service will be held tomorrow, but without the accompaniment of the organ, which was smashed.

The attack caused an estimated £200,000 (€309,000) damage and left two people injured.

The Rev Webster had already received donations from parishioners to repair the church – one young girl gave £5 (€7.72) from her pocket money, he said

Meanwhile, Essex police said they were continuing to question a 47-year-old man who was arrested in the Hertfordshire abbey on suspicion of criminal damage and assault.

They also appealed to the driver of a green Land Rover, which was damaged nearby, to come forward as a witness.

Rev Webster said: “From members of the congregation there is a sense that this is a tortured soul for who we have prayed today.

“But there have also been members of the community who expressed more forcibly what they would like to do to him.”

He said: “The abbey is full of people sitting and praying, some are looking on bewildered. Others are visibly upset.

“People have been coming in and saying that they could not sleep last night.

“They feel that it was not just an attack on the fabric of an abbey but also an attack on their lives, their values and their beliefs.

“We have cleaned the major mess in the sanctuary and lit some candles. It is an important symbol that we continue to do our work.”

He added: “We have received a range of offerings already. Last night I had a letter from a young girl who sent us £5 (€7.72) from her pocket money.”

Mr Webster will lead services tomorrow when he expects more than the usual 200 worshippers to turn up to pray.

Vicars, vergers and wardens at Waltham held a crisis meeting last night to assess the damage while volunteers helped clean up. It will be days before repair work can be organised.

Witnesses said the attacker “ran amok” with two small axes in Waltham Cross yesterday afternoon, injuring two men.

A 62-year-old man was taken to Chase Farm hospital with lacerations and paramedics treated another man, 53, for a head injury.

He then turned his attention on the church in Waltham Abbey and attacked the pulpit, organ, statues and a stained glass window.

He was shouting as he “virtually demolished” the pulpit and smashed his hatchets into the faces of statues showing Jesus, Mary and Joseph, eyewitnesses said.

A glass mirror in front of the altar allowing the public to view the ornate ceiling decorated with the signs of the zodiac was also smashed, as was the organ.

Four panes of a stained-glass Nativity scene in the 14th century Lady Chapel and a funerary urn belonging to a family were also smashed.

Several cars were damaged between the street and the town’s abbey, which is reputed to be the burial spot of King Harold.

The original Waltham Abbey church was founded by King Harold in 1060 and was credited as a scene of miracle-working, including Harold himself being healed of paralysis by its Holy Cross, which has since disappeared.

It was rebuilt in the 12th century and raised to abbey status, but was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540 and is now an abbey church.

The Lady Chapel and crypt date from the 14th century and one of the stained glass windows – the Rose Window – was designed by Edward Burne-Jones, a friend of the famous Victorian artist William Morris.

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