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Dudley Church's link with the death of King Edmund

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 08, 2014

The historic sculpture outside St Edmund Church

The historic sculpture outside St Edmund Church

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I ENJOYED the article in The Bugle (January 30 edition) by Ian Henery on the horrible history of what life was like in Woden's Town' with the picture of the sculpture of the mythological horse, Sleipnir.

However, although I don't wish to take any issue with the article, I thought I should point out that very little is known about the beliefs and religious rituals of the pagan English folk.

For example, although the Norse legends say that the god Odin rode on the horse Sleipnir, these legends were written down in Iceland some 600 years after the time of King Penda.

No full legends about the related English god Woden have survived, either having being lost over time or possibly having been deliberately destroyed after Christianity came to these shores. A little about the religious practices of the Germanic peoples was written down by Roman writers, but again, many centuries stretch between these writings and the time of King Penda. One of the very few mentions of Woden in Old English literature is in the 'Nine Herbs Charm' where Woden strikes a poisonous snake with nine twigs after it has bitten someone, causing the snake to break into nine parts. Whatever the meaning of this fragment, it seems likely that some thought of Woden as a protector rather than a war god.

Of course, in the Black Country it is possible to find many place names that derive from the Anglo Saxon period. For example, in Dudley, at the foot of the castle, one can find a church dedicated to St Edmund, King & Martyr.

Outside the church, there are two iron crowns with arrows embedded in them, referring to the legend of the death of King Edmund (who during the Anglo-Saxon period was king of the East Anglians) at the hand of the vicious Vikings in the year 869. I attach a photograph of one of the crowns, left.

According to some, Edmund died in battle against the invaders. However, an alternative legend grew up that after capture by the Vikings, he was tied to a tree and asked to renounce his Christian faith. When he refused, he was bombarded with so many arrows that, according to the later religious writer, the Abbot of Fleury, he had the appearance of a hedgehog.

To top it off, the Vikings then chopped the unfortunate king's head off. This latter tale was the one preferred by the church and it should be said that the Vikings were not known for treating their vanquished enemies with any mercy.

Edmund became a saint and many churches were dedicated to him in East Anglia, although the dedication of the church in Dudley is unusual in that it was far away from the former kingdom of Edmund.

Kevin Forcey, Netherton

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