Game of Thrones, but With Christian Saints — An Anglo-Saxon Story

You think saints are meek, patient, and peaceful? Think again.

Raluca Enescu

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Left to right: King Edwin of Northumbria, King Oswald of Northumbria, King Oswine of Deira.

Initially Thor and Woden-worshipping pagans, the Anglo Saxons became Christians around the 7th Century, and many of the church higher-ups or even kings were venerated as saints after their deaths. Their lives are less harps and robes, and more Game of Thrones.

This year, as Covid-19 travel restrictions from the UK made it difficult to travel abroad, I took a holiday to the North of England: through York, Durham, and the Northumberland Coast. This is a story that I have learned as I travelled, from the places I’ve seen; and as I take you along on our journey, I will share some of my own holiday pictures with you.

Here I am sitting on the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, one of the main locations where our story takes place.

Our first badass Saint: King Edwin of Northumbria

If you visit York Cathedral in England, on the baptismal font you will find King Edwin, and Paulinus, the priest who baptised him. The third figure is Saint Hilda, King Edwin’s niece, who founded the Abbey of Whitby. His story, as told by the Venerable Bede, is shrouded in legend.

Left: The Baptismal Font in the Crypt of York Cathedral; cover designed by Sir Ninian Comper in 1947, commemorating the baptism of King Edwin by Bishop Paulinus in 627 in the first Saxon Cathedral. Right: close-up of the cover. You can see King Edwin on the left, Bishop Paulinus who baptised him on the middle and St. Hilda on the right. Image taken during my holiday in York.

Life on the run

Edwin was born a pagan, and he was ætheling (heir to the throne) in Deira, the Anglo Saxon kingdom around York, when his sister Acha married Æthelfrith, King of the neighbouring kingdom Bernicia. Æthelfrith, nicknamed “the Twister”, was a cunning and warmongering leader.

Britain peoples circa 600. Towards the North, you can find on the map Edwin’s home kingdom, Deira, and even further North, Æthelfrith’s Bernicia. Source: Wikimedia commons.

As the power-hungry Æthelfrith takes over his new wife’s kingdom, Edwin is forced into exile, and like Robert Baratheon with Danaerys, Æthelfrith keeps sending assassins after him.

At some point, we find Edwin in the Welsh Kingdom of Gwynedd, where he is best buddies with their…

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Raluca Enescu

Small charity manager; workers’ rights advocate; data cruncher; purveyor of pretty graphs. Writing in History of Yesterday, Illumination and The Daily Cuppa.