Posted by: pauladefougerolles | January 21, 2010

Princess Eadgyth (910-946 A.D.) is returned to England

Once again, medieval history (and my old department at Cambridge, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic ) is in the news, this time in relation to skeletal remains found in a crypt in the Cathedral of Madeburg, Germany, which may shortly prove to be those of the beloved tenth-century English princess Eadgyth (Edith).  Eadgyth, the daughter of Edward the Elder and granddaughter of Alfred the Great, was married off by her half-brother, King Aethelstan, to Duke Otto of Saxony, the future Holy Roman Emporer.  Beloved by the people for her beauty, charity, and charm, Eadgyth was lauded in her time as “the best of all women”.

The lead coffin bearing the silk-enshrouded remains was discovered in 2008 inside a stone sarcophagus previously thought empty.  Inscriptions on the coffin which name the occupant as Eadgyth also state that, prior to their re-internment in Madeburg Cathedral in 1510, the remains had already been moved twice—a fact previously known from written sources.  The skeleton has now been taken to Bristol University to undergo strontium isotope analysis.  (Strontium isotope levels in tooth enamel can pinpoint where a person grew up.)  If the bones can be proven to be from Western or Southern England (that is, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex or Mercia where it is known Eadgyth spent her childhood), then there will be no doubt that they are Eadgyth’s.  They will also be the earliest identifiable remains from Anglo-Saxon England.

Read the details here:

http://www.gnn.com/article/experts-may-have-found-bones-belonging/865757 

and here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jan/20/alfred-great-granddaughter-remains-wessex. [Kennedy, Maev (20 January 2010). “Guardian.co.uk”. Remains of Alfred the Great’s granddaughter returned / Coming home: the Saxon queen lost for 1,000 years (Guardian): pp. 5.]

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Responses

  1. How ovely to be remembered after all those years …….. let’s hope somebody knows about our beauty, charity, and charm centuries from now.

  2. I saw the article in the Boston Globe about this today, and of course thought of you. I wasn’t sure if it was in your timeframe of expertise, though, since The Chronicles of Iona take place in the 6th century.

    M.

  3. They will also be the earliest identifiable remains from Anglo-Saxon England.

    One might contend for St Cuthbert…

    • Thanks for this Jonathan. Yes, indeed one might! Though, if I understand it correctly (and notwithstanding the relative dating of the relics accompanying his body), we’d have to positively identify his remains first, and then obtain radiocarbon dates for them, etc., as you know. With all the travelling his poor old bones did to avoid the predatory interest of the vikings and others, the state of his relics is one of those fantastic mediaeval mysteries that keep us all intrigued late at night when we really ought to be sleeping. Still, wouldn’t it be great to get into his shrine (not that we ever could) to discover if (per Bede, and later 12th-, 16th-, and 19th-century exhumers) his saintly self was still perfectly preserved and incorrupt–and indeed seventh century?

      • It won’t be the last time I say this: but, hey! There’s a book in that …

      • When was it last opened? The report I read about this dated from 1954 but the actual opening had been rather earlier. By then it was no longer undecayed, with the layers of fabric nearest the corpse bonded to it by the liquefaction of the soft tissues; no way to date when that happened of course. The writer hypothesized that the wrapping might have been tight enough to effectively seal the body from the atmosphere, a sort of second-rate mummification. One would of course like some kind of dating from the body itself but the doctor who examined it reckoned it a male of about the right age, of athletic build but suffering from something tubercular. It all fitted rather nicely. Of course, the guy was examining it for the cathedral, and if it were a medieval cult we would certainly never expect a report from the church in question to do anything but validate the saint…

      • Yes. I understand that it was last opened in 1899. And that the layers of wrapping had effectively sealed it, cocoon-like. Also, that no clergyman in his right mind would agree to let anyone meddle with it for the sake of science–or, perhaps, should agree to let anyone meddle with it, especially for science. With a figure like St. Cuthbert, we’re at the juncture of faith and history. You can understand that they should like to let St. Cuthbert rest–regardless of the rational interest of the rest of us.

        To be honest, there’s a part of me that is happy to think of the hoards of the faithful which may have drawn hope from visiting this guy’s shrine. Over 1300 years of people who had need to believe. That’s a long time, for one guy to have had such an impact. During the horrible Middle Ages, when everyone suffered, all the time.

        That’s me in a nutshell. Relentless in pursuit of fact: deeply respectful of human nature. Or, said in another way–love the history: love the people.


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