i-b71af27df885c360603b83f3d21e512b-loftus.jpgA royally furnished inhumation cemetery of the 7th century has been excavated at Loftus in Teesside, north-eastern England. The finds are sensational as they hail from the “final phase” of furnished burial, when England had already been re-Christianised and grave wealth was in steep decline. Among the remarkable finds are gold-and-garnet jewellery in a southern English style. The cemetery centred on a bed burial, which is exceptionally rare. Historical sources suggest an explanation:

“The speculation is that the royals buried on Teesside are linked to the Kentish princess Ethelburga, who travelled north to marry Edwin, King of Northumbria.

She brought with her the Bishop Paulinus who baptised Northumbrian converts at Edwin’s Ad Gefrin royal palace site at Yeavering, near Wooler, in Northumberland.”

Update 23 November: More info collected at Carla Nayland’s blog.

For an in-depth analysis of the period’s grave customs, see Helen Geake’s 1997 book The use of grave-goods in Conversion-period England, c. 600 — c. 850. Thanks to Ian Rogers for the link.

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Comments

  1. #1 Turtle
    November 23, 2007

    Inte illa med lite Indiana Jones fever…

  2. #2 kai
    November 24, 2007

    “Re-Christianisation”? So there would have been a de-Christianisation before that? Was it like in Sweden after Ansgar left–the recently baptised soon went back to their old ways due to the lack of reinforcement? I had thought there was a fairly constant presence of Christian missionaries in early mediæval Britain. Tell us more!

  3. #3 Martin R
    November 24, 2007

    C. AD 300: Roman Empire, including the province of Britannia, becomes christianised.

    C. AD 400: Roman administration & legions leave Britannia. A pagan Anglo-Saxon ruling elite and considerable numbers of peasants move in. “Dark Ages” set in from a historical, text-centric point of view. Christianity survives mainly in the Celtic-speaking western parts of the former province.

    C. AD 600: process of re-christianisation started by Frankish missionaries.

    C. AD 700: British Isles re-christianised. Beowulf poet writes nostalgic lay about pagan past. The venerable Bede writes the history of Britain, ending Dark Ages.

  4. #4 Jonathan Jarrett
    November 24, 2007

    You just put those last two in to make the historians choke on their coffee, right, Martin? Add ‘plague and immediate pagan reaction undoing much of early mission work’ c. 660 and a ‘maybe’ every second word in the Beowulf sentence and I’ll meet you halfway :-)

  5. #5 Martin R
    November 24, 2007

    Jon, I’m an archaeologist, I don’t have to know anything at a better resolution than 100 years. Sampling the situation at century intervals, I believe my outline above is basically correct!

    As for the date of Beowulf, I’m in the 750ish camp, having yet to see any convincing evidence for a later composition. Anyway, the earliest manuscript is about AD 1000, and what’s 250 years between friends? A Mesolithic scholar would never know the difference. (-;

  6. #6 Lennart Nilsson
    November 25, 2007

    Not to mention the re-christianisation done by irish missionaries in Wales, Scotland and western and northern England. That’s why England has two archbishops, one “frankish” in Canterbury and one “irish” in York.

  7. #7 Martin R
    November 25, 2007

    Wow, interesting perspective!

  8. #8 MikeB
    November 25, 2007

    Lets not get into the whole Christian thing – its way too complicated (although personally I think that Lennart has a point).
    Instead just say that they found some very nice shiny things and let it go at that…

  9. #9 Martin R
    November 26, 2007

    Yeah, Mike! Let’s not get into the whole “find out about ancient societies” thing – its way too complicated. Instead let’s just say that they found some very nice shiny things and let it go at that! Mofo archaeologists.

  10. #10 MikeB
    November 26, 2007

    Martin – I spent many a year finding out about ‘ancient societies’ (although its never made me much cash), but frankly a long arguement about what constitues ‘christianisation’ and ‘re-christianisation’ (never mind continuing survival of Christianity in the still semi-Romanized part of the country – Patrick anyone?) in Dark Age Britain reminds me far too much of work. Some of us need our down time….

  11. #11 Jeff Lanam
    November 26, 2007

    No, let’s do. To expand on Martin’s timeline, missionaries from Britain spread Christianity into Ireland in the fifth century, notably Palladius and Patrick. The form of Christianity that developed there and in the other Celtic areas divurged in practice, if not in dogma, from Rome. The Roman church was structured around bishops based in a city able to support a cathedral. There were none of those in Ireland or Scotland. Instead, abbots based in monasteries, usually related to the local lord, were the equivalents.
    The most controversial point of difference was the computation of the date of Easter, which was not settled until the seventh century. In Northumbria, this occured in 664 at the Synod of Whitby. Paulinus died the same year, but Edwin died in battle in 633, and Ethelburga fled to Kent with Paulinus and her children. Paulinus became bishop of Rochester.
    She probably found some other practices strange in Northumbria; the confession in the Roman rite at the time was done publicly, while the Celtic practice was to confess privately. The Celtic monks shaved their heads from the forehead back, while in the south they shaved them from the top, leaving the tonsure we are familiar with.

  12. #12 CCBC
    November 26, 2007

    Yeavering is a very important spot archeologically (an Anglo-Saxon “palace” and temple have been excavated there:http://www.pastperfect.info/sites/yeavering/index.html) and this is the place where, according to Bede, a dramatic conversion to Christianity was accomplished via the wonderful metaphor of a bird flying through the meadhall.

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