Scotland’s Brave Princess

Merida is not a typical Disney princess. All this Scottish lass wants is to determine her own fate, to find love on her own time to who she wishes. None of the three goofball sons of the three other clans in Scotland appeal to her. There is no Prince Charming in this lot of awkward teens. Pixar also breaks the usual mold by the mother-daughter relationship being the real focus of the movie. Have you never noticed that  Disney princesses never have living mothers? Not Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, Jasmine of Aladdin, or Cinderella, and if the others had mothers like Mulan, they were not part of the plot. The goal of all these motherless princesses was to get their guy. Merida just wants to pick her guy on her own time, not when her parents want (and not now).

There are many nods to Pictish culture in Brave, although it is probably not noticeable to people who don’t know about the Picts. The first stone shown in close up in the movie intro featured a Pictish beast and then next the broken arrow-double disk.  (I wonder if they are interpreting the Pictish beast as a bear? Bears are central animals in the plot.) Yet, the Picts are never named and these stones are not featured in the plot. On the other hand, the centrality of the queen and princess must have been inspired by Pictish matriliny traditions. The king is indeed the leader of the very rowdy clans but it is the queen who commands their respect and dignity. Queen Elinor is trying to teach her rebellious daughter that her power comes through her dignity and royal behavior. With lines like “Ladies do not put their weapons on the (dinner) table”, mothers will feel for the queen. Unlike the typical evil step-mother of Disney princess movies, Queen Elinor really is working for her daughter’s best interest and trying to train her to be a proper princess (Queen?). Interesting that the family tapestry shows the king, queen and princess but not her little brothers. All nods toward the centrality of the female line in Pictish culture? The great quest at the heart of this movie is that Merida must save her mother by repairing their relationship. I’m not going to spoil it anymore by telling you why or how.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I would say that it is probably aimed primarily at girls about age 4-6. (As the first Pixar film aimed at girls, it’s about time.)  It was enjoyable enough for us older folks and had enough fast paced, rowdy action to keep boys entertained. There was a boy about a 4 years old sitting next to me with his father; it kept his attention and got a few giggles out of him. I did see the 3D version, but I’m not a big fan of 3D so I don’t think it really effected my enjoyment too much. 3D a little too in my face for my taste. The kids did chap at the end, so I think they enjoyed it as well.

All Cadwaladr’s Mothers

[From the archives with a new title: a little bit of folklore for the first Friday in June.]

Cadwaladr the blessed is one of my favorite Old British folklore figures so I can’t leave 2007 behind without one long post on him. A paraphrase translation follows of some matrilinear notes on Cadwaladr in the Bonedd y Arwyr (pedigrees of the heroes) taken from PC Bartun, Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, Cardiff, U of Wales Press, 1966. I can’t read Old Welsh so this paraphrase is based off the little Welsh I can figure out in the pedigree and translations I’ve seen elsewhere for these names.

These are the mothers of Cadwaladr and most of his paternal ancestors. This list of mothers assumes that you know Cadwaladr’s paternal lineage (given further below).

The Mothers of Cadwaladr o Gogail

  • Mother of Cadwaladr the blessed, daughter of Pybba, sister of Penda son of Pybba.
  • Mother of Cadwallon son of Cadfan, Tandreg the black, daughter of Cynan Garwen [of Powys]
  • Mother of Beli son of Rhun, Perwar daughter of Rhun of Great Wealh son of Einian son of Mar son of Keneu son of Coel [Hen]
  • Mother of Rhun ap Maelgwn, Gwallwenn daughter of Avallach
  • Mother of Maelgwn Gwynedd, Meddyf daughter of Faeldaf son of Dylan Draws of Nan Conway
  • Mother of Meddyf, daughter of Tallwch son of March/Mark son of Meirchiawn, sister of Tristain [Drystann, Drustain]
  • Mother Cadwallon Long Arm, Prawst daughter of Tithlyn Britain [Prydain]
To fill in a few gaps, here is Cadwaladr’s patrilinear pedigree from Bonedd y Sant (pedigrees of the saints):

Catwaladyr vendigeit [ap Kadwallawn ap Catuan] m. Yago m. Beli m. Rhun m. Maelgwn m Catwallawn llawhir m. Einyawn yrth m. Cuneda weldic” (Bartrum, p. 56)

Cadwaladr the blessed [son of Cadwallon son of Cadfan] son of Iago son of Beli son of Rhun son of Maelgwn (Gwynedd) son of Cadwallon Long Arm son of Einian yrth son of Cunedda the Chieftain/ruler.

Cadwaladr became an immensely important ancestor to later kings of Gwynedd because they all traced their descent from him. The remainder of the First Dynasty of Gwynedd were his son and grandsons and the Second Dynasty of Gywnedd legitimated itself through a matrilinear linkage to Cadwaladr’s dynasty. As Cadwallon was universally said to be Cadwaladr’s father, thus the Cadwallon who was slain by King Oswald at Denisesburna close to Heavenfield was the ancestor of all later kings of North Wales.

I should point out that the patrilinear genealogy above probably has at least incorrect link. The ancestry of Iago ap Beli is given differently in different genealogical tracts. There seems to have been claims that Rhun ap Maelgwn was a bastard or died childless. Anyway, Iago ap Beli was related to Maelgwn but probably not his great grandson.

Getting back to this massive matrilinear genealogy… the whole point is to link Cadwaladr to as many Old British heroes and genealogical tales as possible. One of the oddest and most common tales of Cadwaladr is that his mother was the sister of Penda of Mercia. This is also found in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Notably, it is not improbable, even if it is too late to rely on. Heroes whom Cadwaladr is said to descend from include Cynan Garwen of Powys (such a marriage, again, is not improbable), a fabulously wealthy descedant of the northern Coel Hen (Ole King Coel was a merry ole soul…), King Mark and Tristain of Arthurian fame, and then some sovereignty type tales. Both Coel Hen and King Mark-Tristain link Cadwaladr to the stories of the Gwyr y Gogledd [Men of the North- British heroes whose land later became Northumbria].

Did you notice a familiar figure here from last week? Cadwaladr via Rhun ap Maelgwn is said to be the descendant of Avallach, whom we met before as the grandfather of Owain ap Urien in the tale of Modron at the Ford. So… this means that Maelgwn Gwynedd had a similar meeting at a ford as Urien Rheged. It is not a coincidence that both fathers have their kingdom (Gwynedd and Rheged) as their epithet; this means that they were the real foundation king for the kingdom. We might say “Penda Mercia”, “Ida Bernicia” or “Aethelfrith Northumbria” as an analogy. Both Maelgwn Gwynedd and Urien Rheged create their kingdoms out of some minor land holding of their family.The last two figures probably represent similar sovereignty tales with local and pan-Brittonic claims respectively. Dylan Draws of Nan Conway is obviously some type of local tale within Gwynedd (which borders or includes the River Conway). The last figure who epithet is “Britain” suggests a similar foundation role but this story has been lost.

These extended genealogies give us a peek into all of the folklore and oral ‘history’ that has been lost and some of the material that Geoffrey of Monmouth and other twelfth century authors drew upon.

Heavenfield Round-up 4: A Golden Hoard of Links

Cross of the Trumpington 'princess', c. 650-680

The news of the last week or so has certainly been the announcement of the discovery of the 7th century Anglo-Saxon “Trumpington Princess” and the blogs have been all over it. Here is a mini round-up of the coverage:

  • I think I may have been the first blog on the story (based on the earliest news reports) here :-)
  • Antiquarian’s Attic was also fast off the block with her story.
  • Nicola Griffith of Gemæcca has a post on Hild and the princess.
  • Past Horizons has a nice, complete post on the discovery.
  • Anthropologist Rosemary Joyce of Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives writes about nuns and princesses with a different focus on the finds at Trumpington.
  • Katy Meyers of Bones Don’t Lie writes about Anglo-Saxon bed burials.

I also posted a presentation I did a couple years ago on St Æthelthryth and the Virgin Mary.

Tim Clarkson wrote about Govan and the kings of Strathcldye on his new blog Heart of the Kingdom. Tim writes about his visit to the Anglo-Saxon monastery of Dacre in Cumbria and its stonework on his blog Senchus.

Karen Jolly of Revealing Words explores the early medieval history of Workington in Cumbria.

Gold plaque, Bamburgh. Found summer 2011.

Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History and Folklore writes about Loki the Trickster and the Norse who brought him to  Cumbria.

Bamburgh Research Project updates us on the analysis of their gold fragment from last year’s excavation. The photo of Dr Whitfield with the fragment really puts its size in perspective.

I don’t usually cover pre-Roman Celtic society but there have been a couple interesting posts in the last few weeks. Past Horizons has a post on the virtual reconstruction of the Celtic village of the Remi in pre-Roman Gaul. Katy Meyers of Bones Don’t Lie examines the diet and health of the Britons of Dorset during the late Iron Age and early Roman periods.

Moving on from Roman Britain, we have the Arthurian bloggers. Clas Merdin has an interesting post discussing the legends behind the standing stones named after the Sons of Arthur. Yes, its only in the post-Geoffrey world of Romance that Arthur is childless. Clas Merdin also has a second post teasing out the 40 tasks of Culhwch in the oldest Arthurian tale, How Culhwch won Olwen.

Mak Wilson of Badonicus continues his series exploring Arthurian lore with part IV on Arthur the Giant or Giant Slayer, part V on Arthur the Soldier, and part VI on the three types of Arthur in British lore – the giant, the superhero, and the soldier. Mak had an explosion of posts taking this series up to part 12! Just keep following the next post from the above links.

This time we have a little Beowulf to counterbalance Arthur. Michael Drout of Wormtalk and Slugspeak asks if Grendel can speak, how does he curse their weapons? I didn’t know there was a ‘current monster theory’… I learn something new all the time. In a second post, he muses some on the size and shape of the dragon in Beowulf.

Jonathan Jarrett of A Corner of the Tenth Century has returned to his blog with a review of the Treasures of Heaven exhibit at the British Museum, and on an unfortunately misnamed boundary tree, and a couple more seminars written up.

Guy Halsall of Historian on the Edge writes about the historical assumptions expressed in a 19th century painting of Late Antiquity.

Andy Gaunt of the Archaeology and History of Sherwood Forest writes about Queen Joan’s tenure as the keeper of Sherwood and about a case of trespass and pig rustling from Bestwood Park in 1440.

Carl Pyrdum of Got Medieval brings us Cake month to replace pi day.

Whew! and that’s it for this round-up.

7th century English ‘Princess’ Grave Revealed

Multiple news sites (Independent, NewsObserver, ) are reporting that the remains of a seventh century ‘princess’ has been found in a field near Cambridge. The approximately 16 year old woman was found laying on a bed with iron fittings; the fittings are all that remain of the bed. She was buried fully dressed with an iron knife, belt buckle, and a chained purse with glass beads, and most fabulously a 3 cm wide garnet pectoral cross around her neck. Unlike other recently found garnet jewelry and fittings, this cross is solid gold. The grave has been dated to c. 650 to 680, although carbon dates are not available yet.

Apparently the University of Cambridge released the photos popping up online in the stories linked above, so I’ll collect them here. Strangely, I can’t find anything on the University of Cambridge’s website yet.  The picture to the right strikes me, seeing the cross still around her neck. There are many objects visible in the cutting of the grave shown below. So far the only description that I have seen is that they are iron fittings.

English teenager found near Cambridge. Photo: University of Cambridge.

According to the Independent there were two other female graves found nearby and a third of indeterminate gender. No grave goods were mentioned for the others. David Keys’ (The Independent) conjecture that this was a convent and that they all died of plague seems a bit of a stretch. I certainly would like to see them all tested for plague, but I think the nunnery is pretty unlikely. This is not a monastic grave with the funeral bed and burial with a knife.

I also don’t particularly see this grave as a mixed religious tradition. There is nothing particularly pagan about the grave. There is no sign of grave offerings; bowls of food or signs of pagan rites. Burial on a funeral bed is not necessarily more elaborate or expensive than a stone or lead coffin. Secular elites who were not buried in church yards may not have been buried as sparingly as monastic burials. Several rich graves have been found in the last five years that were Christian, like the Essex prince, but still buried with some goods and a bed in particular. Unlike the Essex ‘prince’ this grave is not fitted out for the afterlife with tools and favorite objects. If the objects are limited to apparel, objects worn on the body, this seems normal to me. She appears to have been dressed as she might for  a special occasion like a feast.  Christians today may choose special clothes (a suit or military uniform) and sometimes still leave goods in coffins, like leaving on wedding bands, military insignia, rosaries, or putting special pillows in the coffin. We know that high status clergy like Cuthbert were buried clothed and with jewelry. What do you think about the mixed nature of this grave?

St Æthelthryth and the Virgin Mary Through the Ages

I’m experimenting with methods of putting up presentations. This one is put up through slideshare. Its conversion function doesn’t seem to have liked all of my text as you can see from the title page. This is the presentation I gave at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in May 2010. If you open up the presentation on full screen mode in the corner it will open in a new window so you can have it side by side with the text. Let me know what you think of this format for the presentation and comments are welcome on the presentation itself too!

St Æthelthryth and the Virgin Mary Through the Ages

View more PowerPoint from hefenfelth

(slide 1) St Æthelthryth is both one of the earliest and most prominent Anglo-Saxon saints. For those of you unfamiliar with her, she was the daughter of King Anna of East Anglia, born to first generation Christians. She was married at a very young age to a minor local ruler, Tondbert of the South Gywre, probably in exchange for the fenland people’s military support against Penda of Merica. Tondbert gave her the Isle of Ely as part of her wedding present and dies shortly afterwards with the marriage unconsummated. She retreats to her island hermitage at Ely but doesn’t remain there long. Within a few years her father has died and her uncle King Æthelhere forces her to marry Ecgfrith, the son of King Oswiu of Bernicia who is several years her junior. After 12 years of marriage and Ecgfrith’s eventual succession to the throne of Northumbria, Æthelthryth with the help of Bishop Wilfrid of York persuades Ecgfrith to allow her to leave their unconsummated marriage and enter his aunt’s convent at Coldingham. After a year of training, she leaves Coldingham to establish her own convent at Ely where she is abbess for seven years before dying of the plague. At her translation 16 years later she was found to be incorrupt and this was taken as proof of her perpetual virginity, a claim that Bede quizzed Bishop Wilfrid on to his satisfaction.

Æthelthryth and the Virgin Mary have been linked together since virtually  the beginning of recorded memory of Æthelthryth. For the first century or so, the linkage wasn’t part of her narrative history but that would eventually change. In the beginning, the links between Æthelthryth and Mary were confined to Bede’s hymn on Æthelthryth included within his Ecclesiastical History. Bede makes no suggestion that Æthelthryth herself had a special devotion to Mary and his narrative does not make the link. Neither do the other two early prose references to Æthelthryth, Stephan’s Life of Wilfrid and the 9th century Old English Martyrology, a narrative martyrology probably compiled in Mercia.  Bede, Stephan of Ripon, and author of the Martyrology all stress Æthelthryth’s purity and virginity, but none of them directly or indirectly compare her to the Virgin Mary in their narrative.

(slide 2) Bede adds his hymn on virginity in honor of Æthelthryth, he says in imitation of sacred history. Given that the most important canticle in sacred history is the Magnificant sung by Mary, it is perhaps no coincidence that Bede’s song focuses on Mary nearly as much as Æthelthryth. It is easy for us to overlook how Marian this hymn is in part because all modern translators omit Mary’s name, even though Bede certainly names her in the F couplet.  Where Colgrave and Mynors oddly translate “God’s wicket gate”, Bede specifically said, porta Maria Dei, Mary God’s gate. Mary is the leader of heaven’s Choir of Virgins and Bede places Æthelthryth her among an illustrious list of virgin martyrs. As Virginia Blanton notes in her book Signs of Devotion, Æthelthryth’s inclusion among the illustrious martyrs of the past shows such sanctity is available in their own times but Bede isn’t satisfied with mere inclusion in the choir. In the R stanza Bede moves beyond including Æthelthryth in the Choir of Virgins by suggesting that Æthelthryth may be a mother of Christ as well.

“Royal Mother of Heaven’s King your leader now; You too, maybe a mother of Heaven’s King.”

Unlike the Virgin martyrs Æthelthryth is a mother of part of the body of Christ. In his narrative of her life, Bede specifically calls her “the virgin mother of many virgins”.

A further allusion that can only be explained by Bede’s equation of Æthelthryth with the Virgin Mary occurs in the Z couplet.

“Zeal frenzied tears the foe that conquered Eve; Truimphs the saint, zeal frenzied tears of the foe”

Colgrave and Mynors substitute the word “Saint” for the less specific “virgo” used by Bede, which makes that assumption that Bede is referring to Æthelthryth rather than Mary. Bede knew that Mary was routinely considered to be the redeemer of Eve. Yet here again he is being intentionally vague as this couplet is in the context of a discussion of Æthelthryth. Bede ends this hymn by portraying Æthelthryth as a bride of Christ represented as the lamb.

Through all of these comparisons Bede has shown Æthelthryth to be another Mary – she is a perpetual virgin, a leader of other virgins and a mother of the body of Christ, the redeemer of Eve, a queen in heaven as she had been on earth and last but not least the bride of the lamb.

This hymn adds no new information on Æthelthryth’s life; its purpose is to show that Æthelthryth not only belongs in the heavenly virginal choir, but also that she compares well with the Virgin Mother herself.  She is another Mary for Bede’s age.

There is reason to believe that this hymn circulated separate from History as part of Bede’s book of hymns. It survives in Cologne MS. 106, a manuscript indirectly associated with Alcuin that includes Bede’s breviate psalter and 12 of Bede’s hymns including the hymn to Aethelthryth. How widely Bede’s Book of Hymns circulated is unknown as it does not survive intact. When found in isolation it is impossible to tell whether the hymn came from the Book of Hymns or the History. Nevertheless, Bede’s History was the primary source for Æthelthryth’s story until the completion of the Liber Eliensis in the 12th century.

The linkage between Æthelthryth and Mary appears only once between Bede’s History and the 12th century Liber Eliensis, that is in the Benedictional of Æthelwold. (slide 3) Bishop Æthelwold was responsible for refounding Ely as an all male Benedictine monastery where he put his reform agenda that stressed monastic virginity into action. Æthelthryth is one of only two native saints featured in full portraits in his Benedictional, here coupled with a portait of Christ and is inserted at the benediction for her feast day. It is the most elaborate portrait in the book. Blanton notes that this arrangement is symbolic of Æthelthryth’s marriage to Christ.  She also notes that the Æthelthryth’s lily is symbolic of her virginity and, with the mirrored frame, is arranged in such as way to reflect Christ’s benediction in the opposing page.

(slide 4) Æthelthryth is also portrayed as a leader among the choir of virgins. An inscription written on the books the figures hold indentifies Æthelthryth as the haloed figure on the left in red, with her dress matching her full portrait completely. The central haloed figure has been a subject of controversy. The inscription identifies her as a Mary but the second word in unreadable. Authorities have been split on whether this figure represents the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene, with most siding for Mary Magdalene. I believe that if we consider the decoration of the rest of the benedictional, rather than trying to reconstruct the badly damaged inscription, then this figure must be the Virgin Mary.

(slide 5) When we look at the other depictions of the Virgin Mary most of them are decorated as in this illutstration of the annunciation. The rose dress with a flower pattern matches the leader of the choir of virgins exactly. In all illustrations of the Virgin Mary, she is given a gold halo or nimbus, gold veil, cuffs and sometimes an undertunic. This illustration of the assumption is the only illustration of the Virgin Mary who is not dressed in a rose tunic, but even here she is adorned with a gold halo, veil and trim.

(slide 6) In contrast, in the only illustration of Mary Magdalene in the Benedictional she is not distinguished from the other two women at the tomb. None of the women have a halo or wear any gold on their apparel. Only their instruments are gold. Further, the book lacks a benediction for the feast day of Mary Magdalene. If the leader of the choir of virgins is Mary Magdalene then we have to explain why she is not mentioned in the text and illustrated so differently at the empty tomb.

(slide 7) Returning to the choir of virgins, I believe this illustration must represent the choir of Virgins led by the Virgin Mary and Æthelthryth, as suggested in Bede’s poem. This also matches the overall theme of Bishop Aethelwold’s reforms that highly valued virginity and lifted up the Virgin Mary and Aethelthryth as role models. By this time, Mary Magdalene was well established, following Gregory the Great, as the sinful woman and therefore ill suited for Bishop Aethelwold’s agenda.

(slide 8) We have to jump two centuries from the 10th century Benedictional of Aethelwold to the 12th century Liber Eliensis before we get another glimpse of the evolution of Æthelthryth’s veneration.  In the Liber Eliensis Æthelthryth’s story and the related comparisons to the Virgin Mary reach their textual peak. The author of the Liber Eliensis, completed around 1170, uses Bede’s History and Stephan’s Life of Wilfrid to develop a much more complete story for Æthelthryth that embellishes the roles of Bishop Wilfrid, Abbess Æbbe, and St. Owine in addition to Abbess Æthelthryth.  Bede’s hymn is replicated exactly. Comparisons between Mary and Æthelthryth become more direct. The Liber Eliensis uses Mary and Joseph’s chaste marriage as president for Æthelthryth’s unconsummated marriages.

The Liber Eliensis also tells two new tales that will feature in iconography within the Cathedral of Ely. Cathedral construction began in the late 11th century with the Lady Chapel being constructed between 1321 and 1352. In the first new story, Æthelthryth miraculously escapes from Ecgfrith’s attempts to remove her from Coldingham and flies to Ely. While en route at a stopping place she plants her staff into the ground while her party rests, it takes root and grows into a strong ash tree. Ann Stanton describes how these miracles are depicted in iconographic panels within the Cathedral of Ely, at the crossing in her paper “The Virigin, the Queen and the Cathedral”. These panels date to the 14th century when the Lady Chapel was being constructed. Within the Lady Chapel itself iconographic panels stress Mary’s journey to Bethleham. The second story is of a Dane who tries to violate Æthelthryth’s tomb only to be struck blind, literally to have his eyes ripped out. This story explained a hole in the saracophagus from the era of the Danish destruction of the monastery and at the same time discouraged anyone from trying to use the hole to see her corpse within. According to Stanton this story is not depicted in the surviving relief panels of the Cathedral but the corresponding Marian story of a Jew attempting to overturn Mary’s tomb only be caught with his hand stuck in the tomb is depicted in the Lady Chapel. Other relief panels in the Lady Chapel reflect the commonalities in the lives of Mary and Æthelthryth.

(slide 9) The Liber Eliensis makes one additional Marian claim for the first time. It claims that

““there had not yet been any church on the island [of Ely] other than the one founded by blessed Augustine, the apostle of the English, but that was demolished right down to ground level by army of the unbelieving King Penda. This church Æthelthryth, lover of God, labored with all her might to renew and rebuild after its prolonged desolation. And as soon as it was rebuilt, dedicated as of old, in honour of Mary, the holy Mother of God, it became a shining light, through innumerable signs and miracles, as God carried out His work every day.” (LE i.15, p. 43)”

This is the first claim that the church of Ely was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Yet, it is extremely unlikely that Augustine ventured up into the fenlands to found a church dedicated to Mary. I believe that this is a fictional claim that expresses loyalty to the Archbishops of Canterbury while trying to make a claim of antiquity. If this claim were true then it would likely be the oldest English church dedicated to Mary. However there is no reason to believe that the dedication to Mary is any older than the refoundation of the house under Bishop Æthelwold.

Balancing the special relationship between Mary and Æthelthryth, the structure of Ely Cathedral is unique in England. Typically, the Eastern trancept is the where the Lady Chapel is found in English cathedrals. Yet, here this is the site of Æthelthryth’s shrine and chapel (L and N) on the diagram. Æthelthryth’s shrine was located where N is on the diagram, and it is marked on the floor today. This leaves the main body of the cathedral without a Lady Chapel. To compensate for Our Lady not having a special place in the cathedral, they built the largest and most elaborate Lady Chapel in England just outside the main plan (J). How do we account for such an elaborate Lady Chapel?

(slide 10) After the time of Bishop Aethelwold, Ely’s position on the trail from London to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham must have amplified interest in Mary. Although not mentioned in the Liber Eliensis, the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was founded in the 11th century, significantly before the writing of the Liber Eliensis. The omission of Walsingham from the Liber Eliensis or the 12th century French Life of Audree by Marie de France,  may be due to some sense of competition. Yet, the Life of Audree in particular gives the feeling that Ely was a pilgrimage destination. Its unclear how often Ely was a final destination or whether it was a feature on the Walsingham trail.  By the Reformation, Walsingham was the primary Marian shrine in all of England and Ely benefited by being on the trail from London to Walsingham. It is also clear that East Anglia was a major region of Marian devotion with several other shrines in the area including Our Lady of Ipswich. This leaves me to wonder if perhaps the popularity of Æthelthryth and her Marian connections may have fostered the growth of Marian shrines in East Anglia.

At the Reformation the Lady chapels and shrines at Walsingham and Ely were especially targeted for destruction by the reformers. The shrine of Æthelthryth was completely destroyed and the Cathedral of Ely was defaced.

(slide 11) Throughout the 20th century, Æthelthryth slowly began to retake her former position at Ely. The processional banner shown here was made in 1910 and has been used for processions ever since. Among the Millennial restorations made to the cathedral in 2000 was a new covered processional way linking Æthelthryth’s chapel with the Lady Chapel (I on the diagram). Since the third great renovation of the cathedral began in 1986 Æthelthryth’s presence has been steadily growing at the Cathedral. Within the last decade, St Etheldreda’s fair has been re-established as a major community event. A new Order of St Etheldreda was founded in 1992 under the patronage of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, to provide for the cathedral and in 2004 they published a new complete liturgy including processions and new hymns for her feast and the feast of her translation. This new liturgy is available on the Cathedral website.

(slide 12) Two more communities have been founded more recently, including a Benedictine inspired Ely-based Community of St Etheldreda established in 2005 that continues to use the Lady chapel for monthly services (shown here). As the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham has been restored and is regaining its popularity over the last decade, a new St Etheldreda Cell of the Society of Our Lady of Walsingham has also formed at Ely.

To celebrate the completion of the third great restoration of the cathedral in 2000, three sculptures were commissioned for the cathedral including a new sculpture for the Lady chapel. (slide 13) This controversial new sculpture represents the moment of the annunciation. What strikes me the most about this statue is not its modernity, but its startling golden hair and dress that resembles a Saxon princess so much more than an Middle-Eastern teenager.

Iurminburgh’s Warning

Still working on Bede’s Life of Cuthbert —  I’ve been thinking about  Cuthbert’s prediction on Ecgfrith’s last campaign, and I find myself wondering about his warning to Queen Iurminburgh.

“But he immediately said to the queen, and secretly addressing her, it being Saturday, said: “See that you mount your chariot early on Monday — for it is not lawful to travel by chariot on the Lord’s Day — and go and enter the royal city quickly, lest perchance the king has been slain. But since I have been asked to go to-morrow to a neighboring monastery to dedicate a church there, I will follow you at once, as soon as the dedication is complete.” (Colgrave, p. 245)

First, according to the medieval calendar calculator May 20, 685, was indeed on a Saturday. This law about not traveling by chariot on a Sunday seems odd. Apparently Cuthbert could travel on foot or by horseback to the neighboring monastery, but they couldn’t use a “chariot”? Interesting. Also, where is she going by chariot? Which royal city? Its hard for me to imagine that Bamburgh was very approachable by chariot from Carlisle. I think Bamburgh was most approachable by sea, or by horseback. I suppose there were some trackways for carts or chariots but not like the old Roman roads south of the wall. Could Ecgfrith’s “royal city” be York? On the other hand, Cuthbert was bishop of Lindisfarne, not York. If he is following her then it would be to Bamburgh rather than York. This in turn re-enforces the continuing importance of the Bishop of Lindisfarne in royal politics. Given Ecgfrith’s role in elevating Cuthbert to the epsicopacy, it is also possible that he was personally invested in the welfare of Ecgfrith’s family. He may have had a specific role in protecting the queen and mediating the transfer of power (which may have implications for his retirement to Farne within of year of the transfer).

Perhaps more importantly, Bede isn’t claiming that Cuthbert knew that the king was dead. He is sending the queen, Iurminburgh, to the royal city in case the king has been slain. Is he sending her to safety or into danger? She will later take the veil at Carlisle, so presumably entering her sister’s monastery. Presumably she would have been as safe, if not safer, in the monastery as in the royal city. If they did have minor children or wards of the king, then she may be fleeing back to protect the children. On the other hand, a contemporary queen of Wessex, Saexburgh wife of Cenwealh, ruled from c. 673-674 after Cenwealh’s death until she was succeeded by Æscwine. Interestingly only a few years later in 678,  Æscwine of Wessex’s queen was the sister of Iurminburgh, whose name is unfortunately unknown, who with Iurminburgh made it difficult for Bishop Wilfrid to find refuge during his exile. So we know that Iurminburgh like her mother-in-law Eanflaed and her sister in Wessex was politically active. It is possible that Iurminburgh, perhaps with the counsel of Bishop Cuthbert, ruled during the transition between Ecgfrith and his half-brother Aldfrith who was on Iona when Ecgfrith was slain. That possibility is an interesting glimpse into the authority of a seventh century queen.

Reference: Bertram Colgrave, trans. (1940, rep. 2007) Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert. Oxford University Press.

Confirming Queen Eadgyth

Six months ago I wrote about the discovery of the remains of Queen Eadgyth of Germany, half-sister of King Æthelstan of England and grand-daughter of Alfred the Great in Magdeburg Cathedral. Eadgyth was the first wife of Otto I of Saxony, later after her death he became the first German Holy Roman Emperor. Through her children, Eadgyth was an ancestor of many European royal families. Historian and broadcaster Michael Wood has written an upbeat biography of her life, claiming that she was the Princess Diana of her time.

Eadgyth and Otto

It had been thought that Eadgyth’s remains had been lost in the renovations of Magdeburg Cathedral, that the late medieval sarcophagus was empty, but much to their surprise, when it was opened earlier this year a bone box was found inside. It had an inscription saying that it held the rescued remains of Queen Eadgyth found in the second restoration of her tomb in 1510.

When I wrote earlier tests on the bones were still pending. Last week the test results were announced. The tests turned out to be more of challenge than I think they expected. The video below has parts of the archaeologists discussion of their findings.

They failed to get usable DNA and the radiocarbon dating of the bones predicts an age 200 years too old. This seems ominous but they assure us that the early date is because she ate so much fish! James Barrett explains here why a high marine diet alters radiocarbon dating; basically, the ratio of C14 to C12 is different in marine and terrestrial environments. Alone this would be quite a problem but there are other isotope tests that can predict the ratio of marine to terrestrial sources in the diet. We’ll have to wait, perhaps years, for a proper archaeological report to see the data. The failure to get viable DNA is puzzling considering that they should have been protected in a coffin in the cathedral since her death even if they had been reburied up to five times.  They believe that they have identified textiles dating to each reburial.

With these standard tests failing, they next turned to strontium isotope analysis from her teeth.  Mike Pitts discusses how isotopes are used to reveal personal histories here. Strontium and oxygen isotopes show that the remains came from a woman who grew up in southern England. In her early years she moved frequently but after about age 10 she says in one area around Winchester. This fits the predicted movements of Eadgyth. In her very early childhood she would have moved with Edward the Elder’s royal court, specifically her mother, around southern England. After her mother’s divorce, her mother and probably Eadgyth are sent to a convent.

Several news pieces refer to Eadgyth being “banished” from the royal courts as a youth. I think they are looking at this the wrong way around. It seems likely to me that girls remained with their mothers until marriage. It would be better to say that her mother got to keep her daughter(s) with her in the convent than to say that the girls were banished. It seems likely that many young noble women would have been sent to monasteries as teenagers to keep them ‘safe’ until their marriages were arranged. They would have probably got most of their education then also. Its fairly likely that they were not the only noble girls in their convent. It is even possible that Eadgyth and her sister would have been sent to a convent even if Edward hadn’t divorced their mother.

The skeleton supports the identification of a 30 to 40 year old woman. Eadgyth was age 36 when she died in 946. The only other insight the bones revealed is wear on the femur that suggests a lot of horseback riding. This is generally viewed as being supportive of an aristocratic lifestyle. For all of their advantages, life was short in the 10th century. Eadgyth was only 36 when she died, but she lived longer than both her recorded children. Her son Liudolf died of fever at 27 and his sister died four years before him (and probably 5 years or more younger). Both her children, Liudolf (930– 957) and Liutgarde (d. 953), were buried at Saint Alban’s Abbey in Mainz.

References:

” Tests confirm that bone are from medieval queen” Medieval News. 17 June 2010

Bones confirmed as those of Saxon Princess Eadgyth, My Science, 16 June 2010.

Ellie, Long-lost bones belong to Saxon Queen Eadgyth Heritage Key, June 17, 2010

Michael Wood (BBC) The life of an Anglo-Saxon princess. The Guardian, 17 June 2010.

Mike Pitts (editor of British Archaeology) How the study of our teeth is revealing our history, The Guardian, 17 June 2010.

James Barrett, The Fish Eaters of Orkney. Orkney Archaeological Trust. Papers and Pictures in Honour of Daphne Home Lorimer MBE, Feb. 2004.

Hello Eadgyth! (previous Heavenfield post)