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loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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2: Apocalypse on the rectory lawn, 1694
EVEREND JOHN MASON, a man of formidable prophetic gifts, was the Rector of Water Strafford, Buckinghamshire, in the 1680s. He often had disturbing visions of his parishioners, but his wife usually managed to shut him up about them.

When she died in 1687, this sad event gave his ministry a new lease of life.

It was revealed to John that the second coming would take place in 1694. But where would those anointed sandals touch down? On the lawn outside the Rectory of Water Strafford, as the scriptures plainly foretell, for those who have eyes to see.

He gave up administering the eucharist, and preached on no other subject but the imminent event. Word got round, and a commune of his followers settled on the lawn, spending their time in prayer, singing and liturgical dancing.

One of John's disciples noticed that he was a heavy smoker, and that he went into "a kind of ecstasy" when he indulged his pipe. And so it was that on Easter Monday, probably surrounded by clouds of smoke, that the inspired reverend found Jesus sitting in a chair in his study. The visitor announced that his arrival was scheduled for Whitsun. From then on, John's only prayer was, "thy kingdom come".

But soon after Easter, he fell ill. Reassuringly, he had a word from God that he would not die. Less reassuringly, he was dead of tonsilitis by Whitsun.

The reaction of his followers was predictable: shock, grief and disillusion were swept away by the revelation that he would rise on the third day. When else? When this comeback also failed to materialize, the disciples showed a truly inspiring steadfastness by insisting that John's resurrected body had been translated straight into glory.

The story persisted, and John's successor at the Rectory, evidently a man of small faith, was understandably so ragged off by this cult, that he dug up the body for all to see. But it didn't put them off in the least.

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