IT had been a feature of a historic Hampshire church for at least 100 years.

The simple stone cross on the Grade 1 listed building had survived two world wars, floods and the storms of 1987.

But at the weekend an act of God sent it crashing to the ground.

Canon Gary Philbrick peered out of his window to watch a thunderstorm light up the skies above the town of Fordingbridge.

It wasn’t until the vicar of St Mary the Virgin Church left his home the following morning that he realised it had been struck by lightning.

The two-foot-tall limestone cross was lying in pieces at the side of the road.

The 57-year-old said: “I went to the post box and saw this pile of stone and I looked up and twigged that this stone should have been up there.

“I was surprised it hit the cross. You would have thought it would have struck the tower or the flag pole.”

Rev Philbrick said it would probably cost a couple of thousand pounds to replace the cross, as it would have to be carved to match the others that sit atop the church roof.

When asked if he thought it was a message from on high, he said: “I don’t think that is how God communicates with us.

“I think it’s random. The thing about lightning is it’s a random strike.”

The church is listed in the Domesday book of 1086 but was updated by the Normans around 1150 and renovated in 1840.

Assistant curate Rachel Noel, 39, of Falconwood Close, Fordingbridge watched the storm with her four-year-old daughter Elizabeth.

She said: “My daughter woke up literally shaking and absolutely terrified so we looked out of the window to watch it. For me, it was the scariest thunderstorm I have heard since 1989. It was fantastic lightning and it kept lighting up the room.

“I saw Gary this morning and found out that the cross had fallen off. It’s just one of those things. It can be hit like anything else.”