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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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14: The worst vicar of all time?
DWARD DRAX FREE was quite possibly the worst vicar of all time. It wasn't so much the gambling, drunkenness and womanizing, as his unshakeable belief that the sole purpose of his job was to fund them.

Coming to the English parish of Sutton, Bedfordshire in 1808, he turned the churchyard into a farmyard. Sheep relieved themselves in the porch, horses and cows disturbed funerals and pigs dug up the graves.

Further fundraising schemes involved stripping off the roof lead and cutting down 300 oak trees. He took a tenth of all village produce, down to 80-year-old Robert Oakes' turnip patch, and charged a fortune for weddings and funerals.

He rattled through services at an impressive speed, often skipping the sermon altogether, and was sometimes able to cancel the whole thing, since no one turned up. Other times he locked up the church for months on end while he hid from his creditors. The importance of worship was not entirely lost on him, though: he once tried to fine parisioners for not attending.

He considered sex to be part of his housekeepers' job decription, and sired five children through them alone, despite, it is said, being in every imaginable way repulsive.

Finally, the local squire got him sacked. Rev. Free sold the entire contents of the vicarage, barricaded himself in with the latest mistress, and shot at anyone who approached.

He was eventually starved into submission by a seige of parisioners led by the Archdeacon of Bedford, and left in 1830, after 22 years of service. Failing to get a good reference from his previous employers, Free could get no further ecclesastical preferment. It was as a beggar that he died in 1843, run over by a varnish maker's cart.

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