Family Activity: Anglo-Saxon Art

Anglo-Saxon-ArtOn Wednesday 28th October at the Dorset County Museum children are being invited to come along and discover for themselves how the Anglo-Saxons produced their art and what inspired their creativity. There will be an opportunity for children to make and take home their own piece of Anglo-Saxon artwork.

This activity takes place between 10.30am – 12.30pm. There’s no need to book as this activity is FREE thanks to generous sponsorship from Battens Solicitors. Up to two accompanied children aged 4 -12 will be admitted per adult.

For further information about this event contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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St. Edward the Martyr

St. Edward the Martyr as depicted on the stain glass window of St. George's Church, Fordington, Dorchester © Mark North/DCM 2014

St. Edward the Martyr as depicted on the stain glass window of St. George’s Church, Fordington, Dorchester © Mark North/DCM 2014

The following is an extract taken from the ‘Chambers Book of Days’ March 18th 1864, with regards to the death of Edward the king of England who was brutely murdered near Corfe Castle, Dorset.

“The great King Edgar had two wives, first Elfleda, and, after her death, Elfrida, an ambitious woman, who had become queen through the murder of her first husband, and who survived her second; and Edgar left a son by each, Edward by Elfleda, and Ethelred by Elfrida. At the time of their father’s death, Edward was thirteen, and Ethelred seven years of age; and they were placed by the ambition of Elfrida, and by political events, in a position of rivalry. Edgar’s reign had been one continued struggle to establish monarchism, and with it the supremacy of the Church of Rome, in Anglo-Saxon England; and the violence with which this design had been carried out, with the persecution to which the national clergy were subjected, now caused a reaction, so that at Edgar’s death the country was divided into two powerful parties, of which the party opposed to the monks was numerically the strongest. The queen joined this party, in the hope of raising her son to the throne, and of ruling England in his name; and the feeling against the Romish usurpation was so great, that, although Edgar had declared his wish that his eldest son should succeed him, and his claim was no doubt just, the crown was only secured to him by the energetic interference of Dunstan. Edward thus became King of England in the year 975.

Edward appears, as far as we can learn, to have been an amiable youth, and to have possessed some of the better qualities of his father; but his reign and life were destined to be cut short before he reached an age to display them. He had sought to conciliate the love of his step-mother by lavishing his favour upon her, and he made her a grant of Dorsetshire, but in vain; and she lived, apparently in a sort of sullen state, away from court, with her son Ethelred, at Corfe in that county, plotting, according to some authorities, with what may be called the national party, against Dunstan and the government.

Corfe Castle, Dorset

Corfe Castle, Dorset

The Anglo-Saxons were all passionately attached to the pleasures of the chase, and one day—it was the 18th of March 978 — King Edward was hunting in the forest of Dorset, and, knowing that he was in the neighbourhood of Corfe, and either suffering from thirst or led by the desire to see his half-brother Ethelred, for whom he cherished a boyish attachment, he left his followers and rode alone to pay a visit to his mother. Elfrida received him with the warmest demonstrations of affection, and, as he was unwilling to dismount from his horse, she offered him the cup with her own hand. While he was in the act of drinking, one of the queen’s The Murder of King Edward the Martyr attendants, by her command, stabbed him with a dagger. The prince hastily turned his horse, and rode toward the wood, but he soon became faint and fell from his horse, and his foot becoming entangled in the stirrup, he was dragged along till the horse was stopped, and the corpse was carried into the solitary cottage of a poor woman, where it was found next morning, and, according to what appears to be the most trustworthy account, thrown by Elfrida’s directions into an adjoining marsh.

The young king was, however, subsequently buried at Wareham, and removed in the following year to be interred with royal honours at Shaftesbury. The monastic party, whose interests were identified with Edward’s government, and who considered that he had been sacrificed to the hostility of their opponents, looked upon him as a martyr, and made him a saint. The writer of this part of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, who was probably a contemporary, expresses his feelings in the simple and pathetic words, ‘No worse deed than this was done to the Anglo race, since they first came to Britain.’

The story of the assassination of King Edward is sometimes quoted in illustration of a practice which existed among the Anglo-Saxons. Our forefathers were great drinkers, and it was customary with them, in drinking parties, to pass round a large cup, from which each in turn drunk to some of the company. He who thus drank, stood up, and as he lifted the cup with both hands, his body was exposed without any defence to a blow, and the occasion was often seized by an enemy to murder him. To prevent this, the following plan was adopted. When one of the company stood up to drink, he required the companion who sat next to him, or some one of the party, to be his pledge, that is, to be responsible for protecting him against anybody who should attempt to take advantage of his defenceless position: and this companion, if he consented, stood up also, and raised his drawn sword in his hand to defend him while drinking. This practice, in an altered form, continued long after the condition of society had ceased to require it, and was the origin of the modern practice of pledging in drinking. At great festivals, in some of our college halls and city companies, the custom is preserved almost in its primitive form in passing round the ceremonial cup—the loving cup, as it is sometimes called. As each person rises and takes the cup in his hand to drink, the man seated next to him rises also, and when the latter takes the cup in his turn, the individual next to him does the same.”

Extract from an article written by the George J. Bennett. titled ‘The Religious Foundations and Norman Castle of Wareham’ from the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 19 1898, 

St. Edward the Martyr Sign

St. Edward the Martyr commerative sign Corfe village © DCM 2014

The Saxon Chronicler asserts that in A.D. 979 the Saxon King Edward was slain at eventide at Corfe Gate, on the 18th March, and then he was buried at Wareham without  any kind of kingly honours. Those acquainted with the records of Edward’s murder and burial are aware that the monkish historians  affirm that three times the dead king’s body was discovered by supernatural lights:- 1. In a cottage at Corfe Gate. 2. By the light which appeared above the marshy ground. 3. By the light over the grave at Wareham.

When the treacherous blow had been dealt, the mortally wounded monarch rode hastily away, but, falling from loss of blood, he was dragged a considerable distance by his horse. We learn from Hutchins (Hutchins, 1st Ed., Vol I.p. 177.) that Elfrida immediately despatched some trusty servants to ascertain the result of her treachery. Russel (Russel’s Hist. Eng., p. 47.) informs us that they traced it by the blood, and found the king’s corpse much bruised and defaced. From conflicting records we gather that Edward’s body was found at the base of the hill, by what was afterwards termed St. Edward’s, or King Bridge. Elfrida then commanded that the body should be hidden in a cottage. The superstitious affirm that during the night, the house became illuminated by a blaze of miraculous light, by which the sight of a blind inmate was restored. On the site of that house a church was afterwards built. Corfe Castle Church is one of the very few in England dedicated to King Edward the Martyr.

The morning after the murder, when she had been informed of these circumstances, Elfrida commanded that Edward’s body should be removed from the cottage secretly, and hidden in a marshy place. This was done, and it is evident that only Elfrida’s confederates in guilt were entrusted with the work. When the guilty Queen had seen her orders executed, she, in order to avoid suspicion, left Corves-geiite, and retired to the Royal residence at Bere Regis. Ineffectual search continued to be made by Edward’s retainers for the body of their late master. At length their efforts were rewarded. The superstitious supposed that “a pillar of fire,” descending from heaven, illuminated the place where it was hid. Edward’s body was then carried to Waieham, and buried with as much secrecy by the late monarch’s friends as his enemies had used in hiding it. If Edward’s body was really concealed in one of the Purbeck peat bogs, Brannon says : “The astonishing power of peat would actually embalm the body ; the presence of animal matter evolve at a strong phosphorescent light, and the ‘ pillar of fire,’ in this case an ignis not factuus, would rest over it.” By accepting this theory the supposed miracle is accounted for. When writing of the discovery of Edward’s body in the marshy place, Hutching, quoting Brompton, observes : ” Some devout people of Wareham brought it to that town, to the church of St. Mary, and buried it in a plain manner (non regio more) on the east side, where a wooden church, (Hutchins, 2nd Ed., Vol. I, p. 177. ) afterwards built by religious persons, was to be seen in that author’s time.” From Brompton, the historian, we learn some important facts. First, that the actual spot where Edward was buried at Wareham was unknown, even to the ecclesiastics, so secret was the burial. In his Magna Britannia, (Dorsetshire, p. 562. ) published 1720, the Rev. T. Cox shows that it was only by a supposed miracle that Edward’s burial place at Wareham was discovered. He writes of Edward thus : — ” His body had been clandestinely buried at Wareham, in hopes that his murder might have been concealed ; but it being afterwards discovered by a miraculous blaze of light hanging over his tomb.” The reports of the miracles and wonders at Wareham, were, according to Malmesbury, wide spread ; and much good is said to have been effected by the sanctity of the royal remains. As an historical fact, Brompton, Abbot of Forvant, informs us that the body of King Edward was buried, not in, but on the east side of St. Mary’s Church. The fact that Edward was not buried in a church, and the statement of some, probably correct, that the body was discovered in unconsecrated ground, would be ample reason for the removal of the body from Wareham. When the report of the miracles (Dorsetshire, p. 562.) and discovery of the body had been communicated to Elfrida, she granted permission for Edward’s remains to be removed to Shaftesbury Abbey, and there royally entombed. We are informed by the Saxon Chronicler that in A.D. 980 ” St. Dunstan and Alfere, the ealderman, fetched the holy king’s body, St. Edward’s, from Wareham, and bore it with much solemnity to Shaftesbury.” For his information, though brief, we are under an obligation to Brompton. He tells us that the Saxon King Edward was buried on the east side of St. Mary’s, and that on the spot where Edward had been buried a wooden church was built. And what is also important, Brompton asserts that the wooden church was still existing when he wrote at the close of the 14th century. Here we have a substantial proof that the body of King Edward was never buried in St. Mary’s Church ; that church was also existing. None of the monkish historians tell us that King Edward was buried in St. Mary’s Church, nor do the modern make any such statement.

That the late Mr. T. Bond accepted Brompton’s statement is certain. In his ” Corfe Castle ” he writes : — ” Search being made for the body, the place where it was concealed was discovered, and thereupon some devout people of Wareham, having conveyed the corpse to the church of St. Mary, in that town, buried it in a plain and homely manner on a spot where religious men afterwards built a wooden church, still standing when Brompton’s Chronicle was written.”

When, in 1841, the nave of Lady St. Mary’s was demolished, and the original St. Mary’s shortened, some ancient stone coffins were discovered and destroyed. One, however, was preserved, the remarkable boat-shaped sarcophagus of Purbeck marble now standing at the entrance to the church. In circumference it measures 17ft. it is 8ft. 2in. in length ; width at shoulders, 30in. ; greatest outer depth, 17in. ; it is estimated to weigh considerably over a ton. Some think King Edward was buried in that coffin; competent judges assert that it is much too modern. Supposing that the King’s body had been laid therein, it would have been an utter impossibility to have buried a coffin of such size and weight secretly in so small a building, 12ft. wide and about 45ft. long. To such a secret burial as King Edward had, this huge coffin would have been a mostserious hindrance. The original St. Mary’s is now used as a choir vestry and called King Edward’s Chapel.

Dorset County Boundary Seminar at Museum

Dorset County Boundary Research GroupThe Dorset County Boundary Research Group is holding a seminar on Saturday 15th November 2014 from 9.30am to 2.00pm. The subject is Charting and Chartering the Borders of Dorset: county boundary-making set in a wider historical context. The guest speaker will be Dr Mark Gardiner of Queen’s University, Belfast.

“We will be exploring the wider concerns, the deeper history of boundaries; those processes involved in boundary-making over time,” said Dr Gardiner.

Dorset, as a defined territory, is extremely old. Hints of British origins are found in its very name, Dornsaete. The first written mention is in 845 when a combined Dorset and Somerset force attacked the Danes raiding up the river Parrett. The boundary was redefined by the Normans in 1086 and more recently in 1974 when Bournemouth was brought into Dorset to increase county revenues.

Members of the Group will be picking up these themes with reference to the exploration of Dorset’s boundary since 2007 using evidence from six Anglo-Saxon charters. The day will provide a rare opportunity to explore and discuss the composite nature of this unique historic linear landscape feature, lengths of which are now being submitted for formal Dorset County Council listing and protection.

Everyone is welcome – enquiries can be made to Katherine Barker on 01935 816764.
Tickets cost £12.50 for adults and £5 for students and are available from the Museum Shop on 01305 756827. Alternatively send your request with a SAE to Charting and Chartering Dorset, Dorset County Museum, High West Street, Dorchester DT1 1XA. Cheques are payable to the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society.

Dorset’s Church Treasure: Telling the Story of Christianity through the Centuries

17th Century Chalice from SwanageAn exhibition of Ecclesiastical Silver at Dorset County Museum, Dorchester from 13th October 2014 to 18th April 2015.

In Christian churches, the act of communion has always been the most important religious ceremony. Traditionally congregations wished to have the very best communion vessels that they (or their richest members) could afford. As a result Dorset churches have a wealth of beautiful and rare collections of silver, some of it so valuable that it has to be stored in bank vaults. A new exhibition at Dorset County Museum provides a rare opportunity to see some of the finest pieces in both Dorset and the UK.

The new temporary exhibition in the Museum’s Victorian Gallery tells the story of Christianity for over 2000 years – from Pre-Reformation times to the present day. Crafted by world-famous silversmiths, the pieces include the Coombe Keynes Chalice from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – an object of huge national importance.

Dorset appears to have had a strong Christian community as far back as Roman times. An example of this tradition is a Roman spoon from Dorchester with the “fish” Christian cipher.

By the early 16th century England was a devoutly Christian country and only the Priest was normally allowed to take full communion. He drank wine from a wide mouth vessel called a chalice and took bread, in the form of an unleavened wafer, from a small plate called a paten. Pieces of church silver from this period in England are rare and in Dorset only three pieces survive. All of these can be seen in the exhibition including the Coombe Keynes Chalice which has been said by the Victoria and Albert Museum to be one of the finest in the country.

Many consider the 18th century as the greatest period for church and domestic silver and Paul de Lamerie is generally accepted as the greatest silversmith of the time; some say of all time. On display is one of the three silver-gilt communion sets made by de Lamerie for Dorset churches. There is also a letter, dated June 1737, which records instructions on how to clean the silver as directed by Paul de Lamerie, himself.

In the mid-1800s a new Anglo Catholic movement wanted to bring more powerful emotional symbolism and energy to the Church. More elaborate church interiors were introduced and the design of communion ware moved to a more mediaeval style. The chalice on show from St Peter’s church Parkstone is a fine example of the richness and ebullience of this style. The chalice is inlaid with semi-precious stones and has a diamond cross on the front, reputed to be from necklace owned by the donor.

“This exhibition contains some of the finest pieces of church silverware in the country,” said Jon Murden, Director of Dorset County Museum. “We are grateful to all the Dorset parishes which have loaned items for us to display. We hope many people will be able to see these hidden treasures before they go back into safe storage.”

In addition to silver chalices, patens and flagons, there are other fascinating items including a very rare bread knife for cutting communion bread. Accompanying the exhibition is a booklet describing Dorset’s ecclesiastical silver and the development of Christianity in Dorset since the 4th century.

The exhibition will be formally opened by the Bishop of Sherborne, Dr. Graham Kings, and will run at Dorset County Museum from 13th October 2014 to 18th April 2015.

The award-winning Museum is open Monday to Saturday, 10.00am to 5.00pm until the end of October when it closes daily at 4.00pm.

For more information please Tel: 01305 262735 or visit our website at www.dorsetcountymuseum.org.

The Dorset County Boundary Survey Day School 2014

Lyme in Dorset and Lyminge in KentOn Saturday 15th November 2014 at Dorset County Museum from 9.30am – 3.30pm the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society ‘The Dorset County Boundary Survey‘ are holding their annual day school ‘Charting and Chartering the Borders of Dorset: county boundary-making set in a wider historical context’.

This years guest speaker Dr Mark Gardiner, who will be exploring the wider concerns, ‘the deeper history of boundaries; those processes involved in boundary-making over time.’
Katherine Barker will be picking up these themes with reference to the discoveries made in the exploration of Dorset’s boundary since 2007. Members of the Group will then be taking as base that ‘eye-witness’ evidence presented by those Anglo-Saxon charter boundaries coincident with Dorset’s border. To help ‘set the scene’ we will be pleased to welcome Dr Alex Langlands of the ‘Mapping Anglo-Saxon Charters Project.’ The day will provide a rare opportunity to explore and discuss the composite nature of this unique historic linear landscape feature, lengths of which are now being submitted for formal Dorset County Council listing.

During the intervals an aerial view-cum-perambulation of the Up/Lyme Anglo-Saxon charter boundary will be digitally-staged by Mark Ford on the big screen.

Day School Programme:

  • 9.30-10.00 Registration (coffee will be available). Welcome by Dr Jon Murden, Director
  • 10.00-10.10 Introduction by Andrew Morgan, Chairman
  • 10.10-10-50 Dr Mark Gardiner, Senior Lecturer in Medieval Archaeology, Queen’s
    University, Belfast; ‘Boundary-making as a Long-term Process: examples from
    Anglo-Saxon England and elsewhere’
  • 10.50-11.00 Questions
  • 11.00-11.20 Coffee with Dorset biscuits and apple cake
  • 11.20-12.00 Katherine Barker, Hon Research Fellow, Bournemouth University ‘Dornsaete-shire: charting the identity of Dorset’s boundary’
  • 12.00-12.10 Questions
  • 12.10-12.30 Robin Walls, ‘Latter-day Meresmen: the establishing of a contemporary methodology for recording and classifying boundaries’
  • 12.30-1.30 Lunch – please make your own arrangements. The Museum café will be open.
  • 1.30-1.40 Dr Alex Langlands, Winchester University, ‘The Mapping Anglo-Saxon Charters Project.’ Followed by short presentations by members of the Group on those lengths of Dorset’s boundary coincident with Anglo-Saxon charter boundaries.
  • 1.40-2.00 Andrew Morgan, ‘Dorset East with Damerham AD 944 & Ringwood AD 961’
  • 2.00-2.20 Graham Hoddinott, ‘Dorset North with Handley AD 956’
  • 2.20-2.40 John Newbould, Dorset West with Halstock AD 847 & Abbot’s Wootton AD 1044
  • 2.40-3.00 Katherine Barker; ‘Dorset South-west with Uplyme AD 938 and AD 151.
  • 3.00-3.30 Questions and closing session (the Museum closes at 4pm)

Tickets are £12.50 for adults and £5.00 for students available from the Museum Shop telephone 01305 756827 – or at the door on the day. Just phone and pay by card or, if you prefer, send your request with a SAE to ‘Charting and Chartering Dorset’ Dorset County Museum, High West Street, Dorchester DT1 1XA. Cheques are payable to the ‘Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society.’

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Day School at Dorset County Museum: Lyme in Dorset and Lyminge in Kent.

Lyme in Dorset and Lyminge in KentThis is a unique opportunity to explore the story of two places linked by a common name, will take place at the Dorset County Museum on the 16th November 2013.

Talks on the day focus on the later years of the seventh century: the archaeological investigations at Lyminge in Kent, and the writings of the fathers of the Christian Church at Lyme in Dorset.

Discover how these two very different research projects provoke new insights into each other.

The day school will be hosted by Dorset County Museum Director Jon Murden with guest speaker Dr. Gabor Thomas, University of Reading and Director of the Lyminge Excavations.

Light refreshments will be provided and the event opens at 10.00am. Tickets cost £15.00 and £5.00 for students and are available now from the Museum shop on 01305 756827.  All are welcome.

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