Anglo-Saxon pagan temple discovered

Excavations

Drone shot of the archaeological excavations, on the left the foundations of a temple, in the middle the former fortification moat of the royal complex. © Suffolk County Council/Jim Pullen

The Sutton Hoo site in the English county of Suffolk is known for its graves from the Anglo-Saxon period. Now, current excavations reveal that a nearby building complex belonging to the kings of East Anglia was significantly more extensive than previously thought. In the center of this complex from the 5th to 8th centuries, archaeologists also discovered the remains of a temple that was probably primarily pagan. It may have been built and used by King Rædwald of East Anglia.

After the end of the Roman occupation, the Anglo-Saxons, who had immigrated from mainland Europe, ruled large parts of late antique England. At that time, one of the centers of Anglo-Saxon territory was in the southeast of England, in the area of ​​today's counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. There the Angles, who had not yet been Christianized, established the Kingdom of East Anglia from the 5th century onwards. Evidence of their rule includes, among other things, an Anglo-Saxon royal grave near Sutton Hoo filled with rich grave goods, in which the Anglen ruler Rædwald of East Anglia was probably buried in 625.

Mold and horse harness
Mold and decorated horse harness discovered at Rendlesham. © Suffolk County Council

Relics of a royal settlement complex

In recent years, archaeologists have discovered the remains of a royal settlement near Sutton Hoo, which was probably the seat of the Anglo Kings. This is suggested by the remains of a large wooden royal hall near the village of Rendlesham. This year, archaeologists made further discoveries in the area around this hall. They suggest that this royal settlement was once almost twice as large as initially assumed. Accordingly, the royal complex was surrounded by a 1.5 kilometer long moat and covered around 15 hectares. The entire settlement around the palace could have had an area of ​​around 50 hectares, as the archaeologists report.

“The results of our excavations at Rendlesham clearly demonstrate the power and wealth of the kings of East Anglia and the advanced society over which they ruled,” says project leader Christopher Scull from Cardiff University and University College London. During the current excavations, the team discovered, among other things, evidence of artistic metalwork, including a mold for a finely decorated horse harness. Two graves from the Anglo-Saxon period were also discovered.

A pagan temple building in the heart of the royal palace

However, the archaeologists made a special discovery in the center of the royal building complex: There they discovered the relics of a probably pagan temple or cult house. “The striking and substantial foundations indicate that this ten meter long and five meter wide building was unusually tall and robustly built,” reports Scull. “This suggests that it was built for a special purpose.” According to the archaeologists, the construction of this building is similar to other structures previously found elsewhere in England, which have been interpreted as temples or places of worship of the Anglo-Saxons.

“It therefore stands to reason that this newly discovered building was used by the early kings of East Anglia for pre-Christian rituals and cult practices,” says Scull. This is further evidence of the pagan roots of Anglo-Saxon England. King Rædwald is said to have been baptized in 604, but continued to worship pagan deities throughout his life. According to medieval traditions, altars for both pagan deities and Christ were set up in this king's temple. The finds at Rendlesham could be the relics of this temple, as archaeologists explain.

Source: Suffolk Heritage Fund

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