THE P RTAL
The Anglo-Saxon Saints of Eastern Essex
by Harry Schnitker
THIS MONTH, the community at Hockley takes centre stage. Tere is no doubt that Hockley has Anglo-Saxon roots, albeit rather indirectly. Its name derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘small hill’. Tis rather suggests that there was nothing more to Hockley in the very early Middle Ages than a hill. Of course, in Essex’s flat landscape, any small elevations would have stood out. Perhaps someone farmed here, but we simply do not know; the Romano-British pottery that was found under the Plumberow Mount suggests that they did.
the Doomsday Book was written on the
We do know that by the time that orders of William the
Conqueror in 1086, the lands were farmed and contained the Woods of Hockley, which were managed to provide fuel and timber for both villagers and the Abbey of St Mary’s in Barking. Situated on the north bank of the Tames Estuary, the abbey had owned the lands since time immemorial.
St Erkenwald Te abbey introduces our first
Anglo-Saxon saints, for it was founded by the Bishop of London, St Erkenwald, for his sister, St Ethelburga, in the
century. St Erkenwald became the eponymous hero of a fourteenth- century poem that celebrates his life in the most mythical form. Yet St Erkenwald was very real, and is credited with restoring Christianity to the East Saxons. Tis may very well be correct, and St Ethelburga’s nuns would have been of great assistance in this process.
St Cedd Te famous Bishop of London,
whose tomb was a major centre for pilgrimage until the Reformation, was not the only saint working in the Hockley region. He was joined by St Cedd, brother of the more famous St Chad, who had been educated at Lindisfarne Island, off the Northumberland coast. St Bede tells us that his fellow Northumbrian was instrumental in converting the
East Saxons once and for all, which is not quite the case. Te paganism of their kings was notorious, and it would take some time aſter St Cedd’s death before Christianity truly became unchallenged.
St Cedd’s monastic foundations worked hard towards
He founded a house at Bradwell- on-Sea, to the east of Hockley, and at Tilbury to the west. Tese now joined the great house at Barking in the conversion of the local peasantry. By the mid-eighth century, this had largely been achieved. Over the next two centuries, the Faith became so well-established in Essex that it grew its own religious foundations. In 946, King Eadred, ‘rex Angelorum’ from 946 to 955, gave 19 hides of land to Eawyn, a “religious woman” then living in Hockley. Tis was a substantial giſt; the hide varied in size but was around 100 acres. We know nothing of Eawyn – she was a saint who never gained publicity!
Hockley made a final appearance
in the Anglo-Saxon period as the place where the Danish armies of King Canute the Great halted their chase of Edmond Ironside’s Anglo- Saxons aſter the Battle of Ashingdon in 1016. Soon, the Danes would rule England, followed by the Normans.
Te Anglo-Saxon saints, however, were not forgotten and remained titulars of churches, and were prayed to until the Reformation forcibly removed them from popular memory.
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