Here’s a fine thing: Saxon carvings some 1,300 years old, but recycled in the 13th century when Wirksworth’s ancient church was being rebuilt. The curious fragments have been popped into one of the main inside walls, a cobbled assemblage of ram’s head, a wolf (or boar?), a leopard-like creature, a horse, and in their midst, a royal couple (?).
It is thought the carvings came from an early Christian building or Saxon cross. Wirksworth, in Derbyshire’s Peak District (England’s East Midlands) was once part of the great Saxon kingdom of Mercia, whose kings and sub-kings held sway over much of England from CE 600 to 900.
Christianity was established there in the mid 7th century as a condition of a peace treaty between pagan Mercia and neighbouring Christian Northumbria. Northumbrian Princess Elchfrida travelled south into Mercia to marry Peada, son of Penda, the last great pagan king of Mercia. She brought with her an entourage of missionary priests, one of whom, Betti, founded the church at Wirksworth in CE 653.
So could the couple be Elchfrida and Peada? We’ll never know. Though we do know from Bede that the real-life Elchfrida later betrayed Paeda, which led to his death and the reassertion of Mercian supremacy under his brother, King Wulfhere.
The church has another mysterious Saxon treasure, known as The Wirksworth Stone. It is a coffin lid dating to around CE 800, found a thousand years later during building work. The lid covered a large skeleton whose burial position under the floor close to the altar suggests a person of high religious status, an abbot perhaps.
But looking now at these curious works, and pondering, too, on my likely Anglo-Saxon origins, I can’t help but think of the opening line from L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between:
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
St. Mary’s, Wirksworth
Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: statues, sculptures and carvings