Posted by: kljolly | January 29, 2016

The Year 918

The chapter on Aldred’s birth and his father’s death, set in 918, is developing in complexity and I now need to determine the time of year for the events.

From the two previous posts, I have expanded the narrative to include his father Alfred’s treatment for wounds and subsequent death at Chester-le-Street, where he was brought seriously wounded after the battle of Corbridge, Aldred’s birth at their Easington estate, the transport of Alfred’s body to Easington, and the funeral as well as baptism that follows in the manor church.

All of these rituals of birth and death I am recounting in gory detail.  One of the things I admired when reading Nicola Griffith’s Hild is the attention to sensory details:  how everyday things outdoors and indoors smelled, felt, sounded, looked in various lights and at different times of year.  I don’t think I can do exactly that.  However, what I do know well and have sources for are medicinal practices, Christian rituals, and spirituality.  As for childbirth, done that three times without much in the way of modern medicine, and coached two grandchildren into the world, so I think I can merge those experiences with information from Anglo-Saxon medical texts.

But to really get the feel of the religious community and its atmosphere, I need to specify the liturgical as well as agricultural seasons.  The battle of Corbridge narrows it down, since battles usually occur in summer rather than winter.  Later medieval war poetry sings about the joys of going to war in the spring, while other indications would suggest stopping warfare for the fall harvest (unless, of course, one wanted to destroy the ripe fields just prior to harvest or steal it right after the harvest).

None of the primary sources for the battle of Corbridge, such as they are, give a time of year (Irish, Scots, and Anglo-Saxon annals and chronicles, the very confused Historia de Sancto Cuthberto which makes it seem like there were two battles).  Even the outcome is uncertain, with some giving the victory to the vikings and others to the coalition of Scots, Strathclyde, and Northumbrian leaders, assisted by the Mercians, who opposed Ragnall coming over from Dublin and settling in at York.  After the death of two of Ragnall’s associates made it seem like they were losing, the vikings pushed back after nightfall and seemed to dominate, although the leadership of the allies did not suffer great losses.

Within the Christian calendar, I would think after Easter and probably after Pentecost would be preferable, although as I noted before Pentecost makes for a nice baptism ritual.  If online calculations serve (or here), Easter in 918 was April 10 and Pentecost seven weeks after on May 29.  Ascension day, preceded by Rogation days for the fields, would have fallen on Thursday May 19.

May seems a bit early for the battle.  Even if Ragnall didn’t care about the Christian calendar, Scots king Constantine would not have come down to pursue Ragnall until after these feasts.  The later Truce of God on the continent specifies severe limits of days of war or fighting, including a complete ban from Advent to the octave of Epiphany, Lent to octave of Easter, and Rogation days to octave of Pentecost.

So the long post-Pentecost season of ordinary days stretches over the summer until Advent in late fall.  Between, of course, are other feastdays tied mostly to the saints.  Let us say, June, July, or early August, with the battle on a non-feast day just prior to one on which the funeral and baptism might take place.

Any interesting saints, universal or local? Here is where being a member of the Henry Bradshaw Society pays off, as I look through Rebecca Rushforth’s Saints in English Calendars Before 1100 (HBS CXVII).


I am kind of partial to the Seven Sleepers, just because it is a marvelously international tale known in Anglo-Saxon England (AElfric has a sermon on it, Lives of Saints XXIII).   I could try to work it in (one of the sleepers is named Constantine…), but it might be distracting to my narrative unless I can connect some themes of death and resurrection, or should I save it for another chapter?

Help, help, I have fallen down another research rabbit hole!





  1. The local saints’ days that immediately spring to mind in this timeframe and context are:
    • St. Boisil (Cuthbert’s teacher) 7th July;
    • St. Oswald (King and martyr, skull in Cuthbert’s coffin) 5th August;
    • St. Aidan (1st Bishop of Lindisfarne, some bones in Cuthbert’s coffin) 31 August.
    However, as the church at Easington is dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, I suppose the most obvious choice would be 15th August, unimaginative perhaps, but nice resonances with birth and death, as you say.

    • Oswald and Aidan are promising, at least for the Chester-le-Street scenes, and Mary for Easington (how early is that dedication documented?).
      However, I was trying to stay before halfmass on Aug. 1 if possible. AElfric in his Lives of Saints (XXIII) notes that the 7 Sleepers feast is 5 days before hlafmass, while in the Catholic Homilies (II.XXVII) he appends it as two days after that feast day of St. James (July 25).
      Unfortunately, the 7 Sleepers only start showing up in English kalendars in x/xi century Canterbury service books, while earlier and Northumbrian ones have Simeon of Syria and Felix on July 27. So introducing the 7 Sleepers would be precocious on the part of the Northumbrian clergy–although I do like the idea of them being one step ahead, rather than one step behind, Canterbury. I also looked for an Irish connection to the 7 Sleepers (it is the kind of story that would circulate there), but only found a reference in the Leabhar Breac, which as a manuscript is dated to the 15th cen.

  2. The earliest reference to St. Mary’s I can find dates to the time of Bishop Richard de Marisco (died 1226), no guarantee that this dedication applied in Anglo-Saxon times.

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