Thursday, September 24, 2009

Treasures of Sutton Hoo and Caedmon

Here are two photographs of some of the famous items found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial for comparison with the treasure trove newly discovered in old Mercia. The pair of shoulder clasps are from the East Anglian Sutton Hoo burial and the sword bosses are from the Mercian trove.

Here, for those who are not familiar with the brilliance of native Anglo-Saxon Christianity as embodied in poetry, are some verses from Caedmon about the creation of the world:

'Raise we the Fashioner now of Heaven's fabric,
The majesty of his might and his mind's wisdom,
Work of the world warden,
Worker of all wonders,
How he the Lord of Glory everlasting,
Wrought first for the race of men Heaven as a rooftree,
Then made he Middle Earth to be their mansion.'

For those who prefer the original with a close translation of each verse:

Nu we sculon herigean heofonrices weard,
Now we must praise the Protector of the highest ward of heaven,
meotodes meahte and his modgeþanc,
the might of the Measurer and His mind purpose,
weorc wuldorfæder, swa he wundra gehwæs,
work of the Father of Glory, as He for each of the wonders,
ece drihten, or onstealde.
the eternal Lord, established a beginning.
He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
He shaped first for the sons of the Earth
heofon to hrofe, halig scyppend;
heaven as a roof, the Holy Maker;
þa middangeard moncynnes weard,
then the Middle-World, mankind's Guardian,
ece drihten, æfter teode
the eternal Lord, made afterwards,
firum foldan, frea ælmihtig.
solid ground for men, the almighty Lord.

Another great early Christain Anglo-Saxon poem is the famed 'Dream of the Rood':

The poet speaks here first of his vision:

'I, lying there a long while, beheld, sorrowing, the Healer's Tree
until it seemed that I heard how it broke silence, best of wood, and spoke:
'It was long ago.
I still remember,
back to the holt where I was hewn down;
From my own stock I was struck away,
dragged off by strong enemies
wrought into a roadside scaffold.
They made me a hoist from wrongdoers.
The soldiers on their shoulders bore me
until on a hill-top they raised me.
Many enemies made me fast held there.
Then I saw, marching toward me,
Mankind's brave King.
He came to climb upon me.
I dared not break nor bend aside
against God's will, though the ground itself
Shook at my feet.
Then the young warrior,
Almighty God, mounted the Cross,
in the sight of many.
He would set mankind free.
I shook when his arms embraced me,
but I dared not bow to the ground,
stoop to Earth's surface.
Stand fast I must.
I was reared up straight and high, a rood.
I held the King, Heaven's lord, I dared not bow.
They drove me through with dark nails: on me are the wounds,
Wide-mouthed dents of hatred...
All creation wept,
keened the King's death.
Christ was on the Cross.'

One always must make clear distinction between political religious propaganda and the beauty inherent in the actual religion. Unfortunately, written accounts by monks in early England tended to be filled with anti-pagan propaganda and yet, the beauty of Christianity is there as well... Bede was a talented writer and his visions could soar to heaven at times when he was not spitting forth his disapproval of non-Christians.

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