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Monday, December 18th, 2006, 05:11 PM
An article from icCoventry

Our Pagan Predecessors

WHEN the Roman army pulled out of Britain in 410 AD to defend Rome against the Barbarian hoard, things went on much as they were before in the villages and small settlements.

Ancient histories tell us that in 449 AD the Romano-British King Vortigern invited the first Germanic mercenaries to settle and help defend the land, including Warwickshire.

These pagan Angles and Saxons acquired land as a reward and lived and married into the existing Celtic/Romano-British population.

These early Saxon settlers have been unearthed at places such as Stretton-on-Fosse, Baginton, Bidford-on-Avon, Stratford-on-Avon, Emscote, Tiddington and Longbridge.

The Anglo-Saxon settlement was not totally bloodless for histories tell of King Arthur and his fight to hold the kingdom of the Britons.

The legendary king has claimed Warwickshire connections, one says he was Arthal the Bear, of Warwick.

Another recent theory claims there were two Arthurs and one was buried at Atherstone (Athur’s town) and to prove this a fifth century memorial stone has been found there bearing the inscription:


North-east Warwickshire was part of the kingdom of Mercia and the south-west was the lost kingdom of the Hwicca.

The latter became part of a greater Mercia before the death of pagan King Penda in 654 AD.

One of the most unusual pagan burials in the county was on Mount Pleasant on the Burton Dassett Hills.

Here 35 Saxon burials were found lying head to toe in two trenches. Another discovery, in 1774, was unusual for it consisted of three skulls in a row decorated with jewels and either side of them was a skeleton, one holding a spear, the other a sword.

We still live with a reminder of our pagan Anglo-Saxon ancestors with Tuesday, named after the god Tiw, Wednesday, the god Woden or Odin, Thursday after Thor and Friday after the goddess, Frigga or Freya.

Probably Warwickshire’s greatest shrine to a pagan god was at Tysoe, in the south of the county, for here cut into the red clay of the hillside of Sunrising Hill, was a huge figure of a horse, sacred to Tiw, god of war.

Like the figures in the south of England the red horse was scoured yearly for centuries before the practice lapsed and the grass overtook the figure, which gave its name to the Vale of the Red Horse.

After Penda’s death, his son Peada allowed Christianity to be established and Saint Chad, a missionary who had travelled the county and traditionally founded a chapel in Coventry was made the first bishop of Mercia in 669, placing his seat at Lichfield. Christianity for many centuries remained a thin veneer on the surface of older beliefs and church edicts continued to be made against the veneration of images, wells, trees and rocks.

Around the year 700 AD one of the re-known sisters of Barking, called Osburga (Osbur) founded a nunnery in Coventry, which was then a small settlement. Osburga after her death was raised to Saint Osburg and miracles were claimed to have taken place at her tomb in the nunnery.

Thereafter she was allocated a special day and her name was continued in the now long gone St Osburg’s Pool and in the name of the great Priory which superseded the nunnery.

One of the greatest Saxon kings was Offa, King of Mercia, he extended the Mercian kingdom from the east coast to his 120-mile long dyke on the Border of Wales. He set up mints in Tamworth and Warwick and Offchurch is said to be named after him.

It is believed Offchurch Bury was built on or near the site of one of his royal palaces. Offa’s son, Fremund was murdered in the district and is believed to have been buried in the village church.

The village also appears once to have been the site of a battle as weapons and mutilated skeletons have been unearthed.

After Offa’s death in 796 AD nine different kings ruled Mercia and in 886 AD the first Danes began to enter the area. Watling Street became the border of the Danelaw, land ceded to the Danes by King Alfred to stop them attacking the south of Britain.

The daughter of Alfred, Ethelflaeda, The Lady of the Mercian’s began the reconquest of the Danelaw in the early 900s and built a series of fortified burghs (towns), including two in Warwickshire, one at Tamworth, which historically lay in Warwickshire and the second called The Dungeon (a corruption of the Norman-French word dojohn meaning fortification) at Warwick, probably on the site of the present castle (Ethelflaeda’s Mound at the castle is actually the Norman castle mound).

The latter part of the 10th century consisted of an uneasy truce with the Danes in the north and a tax on the Saxon people, called Dane Geld amounting to £167,000 to keep the Danes in their own territory. So ends the first millennium.

Source (http://iccoventry.icnetwork.co.uk/0850cityhistory/0100to1250/page.cfm?objectid=11005349&method=full)