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The Irish Church in Eastern England

The church of St Peter at Bradwell, Essex, part of the surviving minster established here by St Cedd during his mission to the Eastern Saxons c.653 (Sam Newton 1999)

with Dr Sam Newton

in The Old Court, Sutton Hoo (map)
on Saturday, 17th March, 2012.

We shall begin with a look at the Irish background and the missions of St Columba († 9th June 597) to the north of Britain and of St Columbanus († 21st Nov. 615) to France and beyond.
According to St Bede († 25th May 731), the first Irish mission to the English was led by St Fursey († 16th Jan. c.650), who arrived in East Anglia not long after 630. Here king Sigeberht, Rædwald’s step-son, gave him a site for his minster at Cnobheresburgh, thought to be the Roman fortress at Burgh Castle near Yarmouth. Around the same time King Sigeberht provided another Roman site for the minster of the first bishop of the Eastern Angles, St Felix († 8th March 647), which was known by the Irish-sounding name of Dommoc.
A major influence on northern and eastern England emanated from the Columban island base at Iona, of the Isle of Mull in south-west Scotland. This followed when the victorious Northumbrian king (and St) Oswald († 4th Aug. 642) established the bishopric of St Aidan († 8th Oct. 651) on the island of Lindisfarne in 635. One of Aidan’s pupils, St Cedd († 26th Oct. 664), became bishop of the Eastern Saxons on or about the year 653. Remarkably, part of one of his minsters survives at the Roman fortress site at Bradwell on the Essex coast (now the church of St Peter, illustrated on the front of this programme).
Finally, we shall consider how an Irish influence on the English Christianity may have lasted long after the Synod of Whitby, for the Irish love of their native bardic poetry may have encouraged the English church to adopt the medium of Old English alliterative verse to further the Christian message, as exemplified by St Bede’s telling of the legend of the poet St Cædmon of Whitby († 11th Feb. 680).

Provisional Programme
  10.00 Coffee on arrival  
  10.15 The Island of Saints and Scholars  
  11.15 Coffee  
  11.45 The Coming of St Fursey  
  12.45 Lunch break (bring picnic or eat in NT restaurant)  
  14:00 The Coming of St Cedd  
  15:00 Tea break  
  15:15 St Cædmon and the Power of Poetry  
  c.16:20 Close  

About Dr Sam Newton

Sam Newton was awarded his Ph.D at UEA in 1991 and is the author of The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia (1993) and The Reckoning of King Rædwald, (2003). He has lectured widely around the country as an independent scholar and has also contributed to many radio and television programmes. He is also a Director of Wuffing Education, NADFAS lecturer, and Time Team historian.

Some suggestions for further reading
(useful but not essential)

Alexander, M., The First Poems in English (Penguin Classics 2008)
Blair, J., The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society (Oxford 2005)
Brooks, N., Anglo-Saxon Myths of State and Church (Hambledon 2000).
Brown, Michelle P., How Christianity came to Britain and Ireland (Lion Hudson 2006)
Farmer, D.H., The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Oxford University Press, 1978).
Gallyon, M., The Early Church in Eastern England (Lavenham 1973)
Hoggett, R., The Archaeology of the East Anglian Conversion (Woodbridge 2010)
Kirby, D.P., The Earliest English Kings (London 1991)
Mayr-Harting, H., The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1977)
McClure, J. & R.Collins, (eds.), Bede: the Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford 1999)
Morris, J., The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650, Vol. 3, Church, Society and Economy (London & Chichester 1977)
Scarfe, N., The Suffolk Landscape (Hodder & Stoughton 1972, Alastair 1986)
Scarfe, N., Suffolk in the Middle Ages (Boydell 1986)
Warner, P., The Origins of Suffolk (Manchester 1996)
Webster, L., & J.Backhouse, The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600-900 (British Museum 1991)


Please phone or email to check the availability of places. Study Days are 38 per person, which includes a full day of lectures, access to the NT site, parking, coffee and tea throughout the day, and access to the NT exhibition. Once you have reserved your place please send a cheque to confirm the booking. For your first booking please complete the application form to ensure that we have recorded your contact details correctly.

Wuffing Education,
4 Hilly Fields,
Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 4DX
tel : 01394 386498

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We have learnt of the fame of the Wuffing folk-lords of long ago, of how those wolf-kings held the ancestral land of East Anglia....
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