Unusual Christian/Pagan Grave Discovered in England

A gold-and-jewel cross found in the grave of a young Anglo-Saxon woman

Ancient Anglo-Saxon “bed burials”–in which the deceased is laid out in a real bed, often with possessions–are rare enough, but they have turned up in England before. Solid gold pectoral crosses are also extremely rare finds in English burials, but again: not completely unknown.

But finding a Christian symbol on a person buried in the old pagan ways? That’s rare enough to make headlines.

How rare? Well, including this one, that makes two. The burials date from maybe the 7th or 8th century, and the cross was found with the body of a young woman laid out in a pagan bed burial. She was probably the Christian daughter of a prominent pagan family:

Forensic work on the first woman’s bones suggests she was about 16, with no obvious explanation for her early death. Although she was almost certainly a Christian, buried with the beautiful cross stitched into place on her gown, she was buried according to ancient pagan tradition with some treasured possessions including an iron knife and a chatelaine, a chain hanging from her belt, and some glass beads which were probably originally in a purse that has rotted away.

The field where she lay, now being developed for housing at the edge of the village of Trumpington on the outskirts of Cambridge, hid a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement. It may have been a wealthy monastic settlement – more of it probably lies under the neighbouring farm and farmyard – although there are no records of any church earlier than the 12th century village church which overlooks the site.

Read the whole thing.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the Biography tab.

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  • Gail Finke

    Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but couldn’t the brooch have simply been a present? IMHO, archaeologists frequently give too much weight to symbols. She was wearing a cross so she must have been a Christian? Or… for some reason she ended up with a very precious brooch that was in the shape of a cross — made for someone else. A present, a payment, an inheritance, whatever. And then when she died she was buried with it because it was precious.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    It’s possibly, but unlikely. The proximity to the monastery, the fact that the burial roughly coincided with the decline of paganism and the rise in Christianity in the region, and the importance of religious symbolism in burial customs suggests the buried woman was a Christian.