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.

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Fordington St. George by H. J. Moule

Tympanum of Door at Fordington Church, Dorchester

Tympanum of Door at Fordington Church, Dorchester

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 5, 1844, an article written by the Henry. Joseph. Moule, M.A.  entitled ‘Fordington St. George’

As it is a short paper that has been asked for, and a paper not so much on the church, as on a -particular feature of the church of Fordington St. George, general remarks shall be as brief as may be.

The site of the church was well chosen. It stands on the highest spot in the village. Yet the site was oddly chosen too. The church was set down in a great Romano-British Cemetery. The growth of a graveyard round a church is, of course, universal almost, and natural. The erection of a newly founded church in an old graveyard is uncommon, I take it.

On approaching the church you pass three good, plain, massive, 17th century altar-like tombs; one of them bearing the well known solemn epitaph, beginning
“Remember that Death tarrieth not.” (Remember that Death tarryeth not, and that the Covenant of the grave is not showed unto thee. For I was as thou art, and thou shalt be as I am.)

The Tower is worth notice, not only as being a capital one in design, colour and position, but as having what, as far as I know, is a peculiarity of plan. Its north and south faces are each 1ft. 4in. narrower than those on the east and west. Of its six bells the third and fifth are mediaeval, Legends: –

“Sancta Katarina ora pro nobis;” and “In multis annis resones campan Johannis.”

These bells are said to be those, or some of those, referred to in the doggerel couplet still current in Wool and elsewhere:-

“Wool streams and Combe wells –
Fordington rogues stole Bindon bells.”

The cage is probably the original one.

Readers of the third edition of Hutchins may be led to think that my honoured father, the late Vicar, was answerable for the dreadful design of the north aisle. I take this opportunity of denying it. A then leading architect in the Diocese recommended the design, which doubtless is worse than any journeyman mason in the county could now be guilty of. On the other hand my father first reduced and then removed the western gallery, which he found actually so high that there were hat pegs on the crown of the tower arch. And he revealed to sight several curious bits in the Church.

Well, this North Aisle exists. The eighteenth century Chancel exists, in place of a glorious one with timber roof, and stalls, and roodloft. The Nave and Transept are ceiled. The interior is spoilt as a whole. Still it possesses several interesting detached features. I can but simply name the plain stone Elizabethan pulpit, the rood loft staircase, the curious little window high up in the Transept, and the piece of encaustic pavement in situ, but with the patterns quite gone. In my boyhood, by the way, these patterns were still so far remaining that I managed to make them out and depict them. Close to this pavement are laid down a number of tiles which were found under pews. Several of these tiles are of some interest. Not a few of them have the fylfot cross.

Besides the above bits there is an interesting remnant of a piscina and arch in the Transept, and two (perhaps three) Norman piers, one with a cap of apparently later date; and carrying singularly rude pointed arches.

I now come to the two really noteworthy features in St. George’s, both .at the South door, and both preserved from an older church, and enshrined by the 15th century builders in their own work, more suo. Indeed it may be noted that here they seem to have been so disposed to an even uncommon degree. This appears from their retaining the Norman piers, although fitting in very awkwardly.

The first of the said features is the Holy Water Stoup. Its font-like shape is remarkable, but by no means unique. There is a much later one, for instance, at Hastings. But, as far as my limited knowledge goes, the moveable, or moveable-looking arrangement of this one at St. George’s is peculiar. It was hidden behind a high pew and forgotten until uncovered by my father ‘some thirty-five years ago. The slight moulding and ornament on it are perhaps hardly enough to settle its date. But I take it to be Norman. Piscinae of that date, and with something of a family likeness exist, I believe, in several places; at Bosharn among others. But these, it seems, resemble short, fixed columns, with the cap hollowed; and are not, as this Stoup is, like a minute font.

It is claimed that St. George miraclous apperance lead crusaders into battle in the Holy Lands, is recorded in the stone tympanum over the south door of St. George's Church at Fordington near Dorchester. This still exists, and is often thought to be one of the earliest images to depict the saint.

It is claimed that St. George miraclous apperance lead crusaders into battle in the Holy Lands, is recorded in the stone tympanum over the south door of St. George’s Church at Fordington near Dorchester. This still exists, and is often thought to be one of the earliest images to depict the saint.

I must now pass on to the Tympanum, close to the Stoup, but outside of instead of within the South door. A Tympanum within the South door of Tarrant Eushton Church may be noticed in passing. It is like this one in date, and to a certain extent in shape, but quite different in subject, and also in construction, as far as I can judge from the rough cut in Hutchins.

I may as well at once express my belief, for what it is worth, that this Fordington Tympanum is undoubtedly Norman. I do not forget that at the meeting of the Archaeological Association in 1871, an opinion that it is much more recent was very decidedly expressed. It was said that the hardness of the stone accounts for the character of the carving. I doubt the fact, and deny the inference. As to the stone, there is a theory that it is of foreign, even of oriental origin. I can find no foundation for this idea. It is a more prevailing, and much more likely belief, that it is of Portesham Oölite. At the same time there is a tradition at Sutton Pointz that of stone from the now grass-grown quarries on Loddun, a hill there, all the “Wold arnshunt builduns to Darchester “ were constructed. “There,” said my informant, ”Portland line – he weren’t finished – not then.” But, whether from. Portesham or Loddun, I think I shall be borne out in believing that oölite from those places, as from Portland, is not when first quarried of by any means stubborn quality. But if it were as hard as basalt, what then? Would the iron hardness of the stone have made the post-Norman carver plainly, if rudely, portray the Norman nasal, the Norman hauberk, the Norman shield, the Norman prick-spur? For in truth this carving might be the petrifaction of some lost bit of the Bayeux Tapestry. Every feature, almost, in the Tympanum may be clearly traced in the tapestry. Almost, for from my remembrance of the latter, and examination of the imperfect set of the facsimiles thereof to which alone I have access here, I cannot satisfy myself that the strapping of the shield to the neck, so conspicuous in the Tympanum (lubke’s “Ecclesiastical Art,” p. 2420,  shown in the tapestry. The object below the horseman’s foot I have always thought to be the end of his sword hanging, of course, on the near side of the horse. I think so still; yet in the Tapestry I see a different object so hanging, and which may be a large dagger or a long end of the girth. This, whether dagger or girth, may be the thing of which the Norman carver here was thinking – just possibly.

As to the subject, I have no new theory to offer. Abroad – and the Anglo-Norman was in much harmony of thought with the Franco-Norman, with the Frenchman, and with the German – abroad, the Tympanum mostly displays some figure or symbol of Our Lord, as by the way we see on the Tarrant example. But here at Fordington it is not Our Lord who is figured or symbolized. His cross, indeed, is fully shown, but not Himself. Yet, the horseman, though not divine, is sainted. His aureole, however faint and rude, is plain enough. Now this is St. George’s Church. About two years before one of the dates assigned for its founding St. George was beheld (men said) charging the Paynim. I see no better likelihood than the old accepted one that this rider is St. George in the onslaught at Antioch. It may be objected that the enemy are in Norman harness. This is nothing. Everyone knows that variation of costume, &o., owing to either differing time or clime, was constantly ignored in mediaeval, nay, down to modern times. Many here must have seen the immortal coloured print of the Prodigal Son going away from home in a post chaise.

I have called this rudely carvel door-head a Tympanum. The books call it so. It is well. But I would in one word point out that it is a widely different feature from the normal Tympanum; and is uncommon – I had almost said unique. The regular Tympanum, of constant occurrence, especially abroad, is a massive lintel stone, fitting into the soffit of an arch above it. With the soffit it is, in truth, like half of a tambourine, τύμπαυου. This Tympanum here is not a stone – it is six stones. It is not a lintel – it is an arch, however rude.

I conclude by pointing out that there are faint traces of red paint on the stone, and recording that the whole was hidden in plaster and unknown until discovered by Clerk Brooks, whom I well remember.

 

 

Roman Mosaics

The Dorset County Museum has twelve mosaics on display from the Roman period, mostly fragments. Many are from Durnovaria, Roman Dorchester. The study of these fragments and the many others found in the County identify some as the Durnovarian school of mosaicists who provided a rich variety of designs for pavements constructed throughout the Fourth Century A.D. These designs are noted for their use of sea beasts, gods, goddesses and other ornament. None are identical.

In the entrance doorway of the museum is a mosaic made up in 1908 with tesserae from the surround of a pavement found behind 45 South Street, Dorchester, during building operations in 1905. In the entrance passage is a fragment of the geometric mosaic found beneath the pavement showing the sea creature theasos, found at Dewlish.

Mosaic found in Dewlish in 1975

Mosaic found in Dewlish in 1975 © DCM

On the wall above the reception desk to the right is a fragment from a mosaic depicting a sea creature procession or theasos, found at Dewlish during the excavations of 1975.

To the right of the Durngate Street pavement and under the staircase to the gallery is a complete mosaic from a plunge bath excavated on the site of the Romano-British villa at Hemsworth. It was presented to the museum by the executors of Lord Aliington in 1905.

Mosaic pavement found in Durngate Street, Dorchester in 1905. The Durngate Street pavement is one of the few in Britain which bear a signature; in this case a 'fruit and leaf motif. © DCM

Mosaic pavement found in Durngate Street, Dorchester in 1905. The Durngate Street pavement is one of the few in Britain which bear a signature; in this case a ‘fruit and leaf motif. © DCM

Through the doorway into the museum’s Victorian Gallery is a pavement from Durngate Street, Dorchester, found and removed to the museum in July 1905 and laid to be walked upon as part of the building. A typical example of the Durnovarian School, the crested serpents and the leaves form an obvious link with that from Hinton St. Mary, at present in store in the British Museum.

By the side of the main staircase is a portion of a mosaic found near South Street, Dorchester in 1894. It was the first mosaic to be placed on display in the museum. It was presented by Mr. Alfred Pope in 1895.

Roman masterpieces in Dorset

This mosaic pavement discovered at Olga Road, Dorchester in 1899 © DCM

This mosaic pavement discovered at Olga Road, Dorchester in 1899 © DCM

The other mosaic in the museums’s  Victorian Gallery is from Olga Road, Dorchester, found in 1899 and presented to the Museum by Mr. Alfred Pope in 1900. It was taken up and re-laid by subscription. This design contrasts with that from Durngate Street and has similarities with mosaics at Corinium, Roman Cirencester.

To the left of the Olga Road pavement is the doorway into the museums’s Temporary Exhibition Gallery where the polychrome mosaic from Fordington High Street, Dorchester is displayed. This mosaic also has similarities with those in Corinium and possibly dates from the Second Century A.D. It was found in October 1927 and presented by Messrs. T. J. Walne and O. C. Vidler when it was taken up and relaid to walk upon as part of the building.

This decorative mosaic found in Fordington, High Street, 1927 . Shows what may be the image of the Roman god of the sea, Neptune surrounded by fish and dolphins © DCM

This decorative mosaic found in Fordington, High Street, Dorchester, 1927 . Shows what may be the image of the Roman god of the sea, Neptune surrounded by fish and dolphins © DCM

There is a repair made in antiquity to the three strand guilloche around one of the circles containing a stylised flower and there are the remains – six red tessarae – of a figure which once occupied the central octagon.

Upstairs from the Temporary Exhibition Gallery is the Archaeological Gallery: Victim of Time, where there are three further fragments of mosaic on display.

In the Roman section there is a fragment of guilloche and stylised flower border presented in 1899 by the Directors of the Devon & Cornwall Bank (now the National Westminster Bank), Dorchester. It was found when building operations were underway for the new Bank.

The, Dorchester Prison mosaic, 4th Century. A tinted photographic lithograph. John Pouncy, 2nd December 1858. Using one of his new experimental photographic processes. This mosaic was presented to the Dorset County Museum by the Governor of Dorchester Prison in 1885, after its removal from the Prison chapel where it had been relaid in 1858. It was set on the north wall of the museum staircase masked by the overhanging portrait of James John Farquharson, 1857.

The, Dorchester Prison Mosaic, 4th Century. A tinted photographic lithograph. John Pouncy, 2nd December 1858. Using one of his new experimental photographic processes. This mosaic was presented to the Dorset County Museum by the Governor of Dorchester Prison in 1885, after its removal from the Prison chapel where it had been relaid in 1858. It was set on the north wall of the museum staircase masked by the overhanging portrait of James John Farquharson, 1857. © DCM

Also in the Conservation section there is a mosaic roundel depicting Oceanus or Neptune, which once formed the centre of a pavement found during the excavation of the Romano-British villa at Hemsworth in 1831. The pavement was lifted in 1908 and presented by the executors of Lord Allington in 1929. The identifying features on the head of this sea god are crab legs and two crab claws on the forehead.

Half way up the main staircase and at the first landing – and temporarily covered by a large oil painting – is a geometric mosaic, found in the County Prison burial ground whilst digging a grave for James Seal who was executed for murder on August 10th 1858, when it was taken up and presented to the Museum.

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