In case you’ve missed some of our recent blogs, we’re currently in the middle of looking at Rædwald, King of East Anglia (599 to 624), who is thought to have been buried at Sutton Hoo and the subject of Netflix’s recent drama film, The Dig. We pick up his story with Rædwald having converted to Christianity and been baptised in Kent.
The life of Rædwald in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) is relatively scarce and piecing it together chronologically is challenging if not impossible. Bede is pretty much all we have and he suggests that Rædwald turned back in part to his old religion following his baptism and apparent conversion to Christianity. In chapter 15, Bede writes:
“Indeed his (Eorpwald) father Rædwald had long before been initiated into the mysteries of the Christian faith in Kent, but in vain; for on his return home, he was seduced by his wife and by certain evil teachers and perverted from the sincerity of his faith, so that his last state was worse than his first”.
Bede goes on to tell us that Rædwald had one temple with two altars, one for his Christian faith and the other “...on which to offer victims to devils”.
The picture painted for us by Bede suggests that Rædwald returned, under persuasion by others, back to his old religious practices – those of the Anglo-Saxons and we only have a small window looking into what Anglo-Saxon religion may have been like. At Yeavering we have the clearest archeological evidence to date of a temple - what it would have looked like above ground however remains open to conjecture (we have taken inspiration from Scandinavian church architecture from a later period in our model). There may be more to learn with the ongoing archeological work at Rendlesham, which is believed to be the possible site of the Royal Place as mentioned by Bede and may be the home Rædwald as well (you can find out more about this work here www.heritage.suffolk.gov.uk/rendlesham). Written sources are also limited and come from Christian writers such as Bede and Aldhelm. Evidence is also taken from place names where connections can be made with the names of gods.
Given the religious practices carried out in the northern Germanic lands that the Anglo-Saxons came from and the evidence we have there is indication that the god’s who would have been worshipped included Ealh, Hearg, Wíg Ós, Wóden (Óðinn in Norse), ꝥunor (Thor in Norse), Tíw and Fríg. Some of these god’s maybe more familiar to us than others, such as Thor god of thunder. More subtly the names of these god’s have lived on in the names of our days - for example Wednesday in old English is Wódensdœg (Thursday - ꝥunresdœg, Friday - Frigedœg). The day-to-day religious practices are not clear from what we know, there is suggestion though that animal sacrifices (but not human) would have been carried out.
For Rædwald, religion may have had a strong connection with his identity as a warrior king. Given his point in history, where the Age of Christianity was about to dawn on Europe and England, he clearly was pulled in two directions and consequently he may have made a compromise between the two faiths to maintain his power. The finds at Sutton Hoo include both Christian and pagan items, some of which we have included in this model (can you spot and name them?).
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on early Anglo-Saxon England. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
BLOG TO THE PAST
On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past