A day at the cemetery and burial place of the ‘vilest’ woman -ANN FREEMAN!
The other day my wife and kids came across a peculiar head stone. Some other kids who were around got spooked and thought it was the burial place of some witch. I got interested and decided to go and look for this unusual head stone. I have had to wait a couple of days for the snow to settle down and climb up the hill -and go exploring Pitsea Mount.
This family head stone is found on Pitsea Mount in Basildon just a yard or so behind St. Michael’s church tower. St. Michael’s church was built in the 13th century but later fell into ruin and only the church tower remains to this day. The inscription reads:
Born: 30th March 1837
Died: 20th March 1879
HERE LIES A WEAK AND SINFUL WORM
THE VILEST OF HER RACE.
SAVED THROUGH GOD’S ELECTING LOVE,
HIS FREE AND SOVEREIGN GRACE
Apparently this inscription has intrigued people over the years. The family head stone belongs to a husband, wife and two daughters. Not much is written against the names of the other family members except on the side belonging to Ann Freeman.
The truth is we are all born vile and helplessly sinful. This curse of sin is what we all inherited from our first parents. Sadly we are all destined to die as helpless worms deserving of the grimiest of punishments for transgressing and breaking the laws of a trice Holy God unless God by grace alone awakens you and causes you to repent and put your trust in Christ. Did Ann Freeman come to know the love of God in sending Christ to die for her sins on the cross? Did her husband and daughters come to repentance too? I wish I knew the answers to these questions.
So much truth scribbled on to a headstone. God through His love and grace does have mercy on vile worms…
Christianity, Evangelism, Faith
Ann Freeman, ann freeman headstone, Basildon, Christ, Christianity, god, People, pitsea mount, Religion and Spirituality, st michaels church
There is more about Ann Freeman here:-
Her family tree is mentioned here:
The secular people have got it wrong, of course, and they are mostly mystified. But it is recognisable as a Christian testimony from the 19th century that would have been widely understood by evangelical Christians of that era. It reminds me of William Carey’s epitaph which I have seen myself in his cemetery at Serampore, near Kolkatta (India):
“A wretched, poor, and helpless worm on thy kind arms I fall.”
Charles Wesley was one of the many hymnwriters who popularized the reference to wretched sinners as “worms”. One website quoting some of his verses has the word “worm” 40 times mainly referring to man (the 40 includes “wormwood” once and “worms destroy my body” once). In contrast, the King James Bible has the word “worm” or “worms” only 28 times in the whole Bible and only four of those references describe man as a worm.
Wesley’s use of “worm” includes:
See the following lines in a collection of Charles Wesley’s hymns (emphasis mine), to see how commonly this thought was conveyed, and how similar to Ann Freeman’s inscription:
My humbled soul, when thou art near,
In dust and ashes lies;
How shall a sinful worm appear,
Or meet thy purer eyes?
I loathe myself when God I see,
And into nothing fall;
Content if thou exalted be,
And Christ be in my all.
From another Wesley hymn:
I all thy holy will shall prove:
I, a weak, sinful worm,
When thee with all my heart I love,
Shall all thy law perform.
And another Wesley hymn:
FATHER, Son, and Holy Ghost,
In solemn power come down!
Present with thy heavenly host,
Thine ordinance to crown:
See a sinful worm of earth!
Bless to him the cleansing flood,
Plunge him, by a second birth,
Into the depths of God.
Evangelical terminology of that era and into the 19th century emphasised the unworthiness of the sinner – “the vilest of the race”. The word “vile” is used 38 times to describe the sinner in this collection of Wesley’s hymns. Examples below (emphasis mine):
Me, the vilest of the race,
Most unholy, most unclean;
Me, the farthest from thy face,
Full of misery and sin;
Me with arms of love receive,
Me, of sinners chief, forgive!
Arm of God, thy strength put on,
Bow the heavens, and come down;
All my unbelief o’erthrow,
Lay the aspiring mountain low;
Conquer thy worst foe in me,
Get thyself the victory;
Save the vilest of the race,
Force me to be saved by grace
LAY to thy hand, O God of grace!
O God, the work is worthy thee!
See at thy feet of all the race
The chief, the vilest sinner see;
And let me all thy mercy prove,
Thine utmost miracle of love.
Still I cannot part with thee,
I will not let thee go:
Mercy, mercy upon me,
Thou Son of David, show!
Vilest of the sinful race,
On thee, importunate, I call,
Help me, Jesus, show thy grace;
Thy grace is free for all.
YES, from this instant now, I will
To my offended father cry;
My base ingratitude I feel,
Vilest of all thy children, I,
Not worthy to be called thy son;
Yet will I thee my father own.
Vilest of all the sons of men,
When I to folly turned again,
And sinned against thy light and love,
Grace did much more than sin abound;
Amazed, I still forgiveness found,
And thanked my Advocate above.
A vile, backsliding sinner, I
Ten thousand deaths deserve to die,
Yet still by sovereign grace I live!
Saviour, to thee I still look up;
I see all open door of hope,
And wait thy fulness to receive.
Vilest of the sinful race,
Lo! I answer to thy call;
Meanest vessel of thy grace,
Grace divinely free for all,
Lo! I come to do thy will,
All thy counsel to fulfil.
Each sinner was meant to feel themselves the vilest (like Paul the “chief of sinner”) so that their utter unworthiness would be sharply contrasted all the more with God’s amazing grace – and in the case of a Calvinist, “sovereign grace”.
Elsewhere, Wesley speaks of God’s sovereign love (but I have been unable to find “electing love”, not surprisingly perhaps since he was Arminian). In the website collection noted above, the word “sovereign” is used 63 times; with the phrase “sovereign grace” 10 times and “sovereign love” 3 times.
O let thy love my heart constrain!
Thy love for every sinner free,
That every fallen soul of man
May taste the grace that found out me;
That all mankind with me may prove
Thy sovereign everlasting love.
Popular local folklore from the 20th century onwards could not possibly understand any of this, so the rumour has been popularized that she must have been a witch or had a very nasty husband who vilified her, or something like that. Whereas she probably choice the words herself – perhaps compiled from her favourite hymns, or from a verse that might have belonged to a hymn at the time.
To the question: “Did Ann Freeman come to know the love of God in sending Christ to die for her sins on the cross?”, I believe the answer is most probably yes.
True there are remarkably close parallels with Wesley’s classic Christian hymns. Thank you Paul for those links!