It is known as the Church Grim or the Kirk Grim in English, Kyrkogrim in Swedish, and Kirkonavki in Finnish. No matter where you may hear the story the lore surrounding this particular creature is fascinating. Church Grims are popular in both English and Scandinavian folklore. Despite its ominous and frightening appearance many believe the Church Grim is an attendant spirit, sent to oversee a church.
Although they are an attendant spirit, Church Grims are not some dapper gentleman dressed in clothes of old or a gentle animal. Instead, Church Grims usually appear as intensely fierce black dogs ready to protect the church. In some stories, the dogs can also be rams, horses, roosters, or ravens. In Scandinavian legend it is also said that they can also appear as pale, human-like ghosts who were once parishioners.
The Church Grim may not be as cute and cuddly as our beloved Greyfriars Bobby, it does not call forth evil. Instead, the Church Grim’s one goal is to protect the church safe from the devil. It is a guardian spirit and some people believe this was because early Christians may have sacrificed animals when a new church was built and bury them on the north side of the land. Why would they do this? Well, it was once assumed by several different religious traditions, including early Christianity, that whoever was the first and/or last being interred in the Church’s cemetery would be forced to serve as its guardian for all the years to come. So that this tough existence wouldn't be granted to some poor soul at random, an animal was sacrificed and buried in the churchyard or on the church grounds. Some of the more gruesome traditions suggest that the animal would be buried alive.
However good its intentions may be, you don’t want to bump into the Church Grim. Church Grim’s are often an omen and herald doom and death to those who witness it.
Thanks to Luke C for the suggestion!
The above image is unrelated to the story and is by Flickr user Matthias Ripp. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)