Primary History

Anglo-Saxons: Anglo-Saxon beliefs

  • Early Anglo-Saxon beliefs

    In Roman Britain, many people had been Christians. The early Anglo-Saxons were pagans. Much like the Vikings of Scandinavia, they believed in many gods. The king of the Anglo-Saxon gods, for example, was Woden - a German version of the Scandinavian god Odin. From his name comes our day of the week Wednesday or 'Woden's day'. Other gods were Thunor, god of thunder; Frige, goddess of love; and Tiw, god of war.

    Anglo-Saxons were superstitious. They believed in lucky charms. They thought 'magic' rhymes, potions, stones or jewels would protect them from evil spirits or sickness.

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  • What do graves tell us?

    Archaeologists can learn a lot from old burial sites. When Anglo-Saxons died, their bodies were either cremated or buried in a grave. Belongings buried with the dead person, for use in the next life, provide evidence of the jobs people did. Men's graves include knives and spears, which suggests hunting, fighting and farming. Women's graves include tools used for sewing and weaving - showing that women made cloth and clothing. The grave of a king, like the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo, was filled with treasures, weapons and armour. One child's grave in Essex had the bones of a dog in it, perhaps a pet.

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  • Anglo-Saxons become Christians

    After the Romans left Britain, Christianity continued in places where Anglo-Saxons did not settle, such as Wales and the west. Christian monks, such as St Patrick (who went to Ireland in the 400s) and St Columba (who went to Scotland from Ireland around 563AD) taught the 'Celtic' form of the Christian religion.

    In AD 597 the Pope in Rome decided it was time Anglo-Saxons in southern Britain heard about Christianity. So he sent a monk called Augustine to Kent, to persuade the king to become a Christian. Over the next 100 years, many Anglo-Saxons turned to Christianity. New churches and monasteries were built.

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  • Bede and the Monasteries

    Monasteries were centres of learning, where monks and nuns spent their time in prayer, study and worked in fields and workshops. Monasteries were the only schools in Anglo-Saxon England. In the monasteries, monks copied out books by hand and decorated the pages in beautiful colours.

    Bede lived in the monastery at Jarrow in Northumbria. He went to live with monks in 680AD when he was just 7 years old. When he grew up, he became a historian. He wrote a book about the history of the Anglo-Saxons, called 'A History of the English Church and People'.

    Monastery

    The building where monks live.

    Monk

    A male member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.

    Nun

    A female member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.

    Bede

    An English monk and historian. He lived from about 673AD to 735AD.

    Historian

    A person who studies the past.

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Fun Facts
  • Four Anglo-Saxon gods gave their names to days of the week: Tiw/Tuesday; Woden/Wednesday; Thunor/Thursday and Frige/Friday.

  • The Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre was the goddess of spring. Christians took over her name for 'Easter'.

  • When King Ethelbert of Kent first met Augustine, he was scared the Christian monk might use witchcraft on his home. So the king met his visitor outdoors!

  • Redwald, the 'Sutton Hoo' king of East Anglia, became a Christian. But he also kept some old pagan customs too.

  • Pope Gregory saw Anglo-Saxon children being sold as slaves in Rome. It's said this made him decide to send missionaries to England.

  • In AD 764 St Cuthbert complained that his monks at Lindsfarne, in Northumbria, could not write - because their fingers were too cold to hold pens.

  • Cuthbert, a famous Church leader in England, began life as a shepherd.

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Jump to: A-D | E-L | M-R | S-Z

A to D

ale
Drink made from barley.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
A history of England begun in the 800s.
archaeologist
A person who finds out about the past by looking at old objects or buildings that are buried under the ground.
barn
A farm building.
Bayeux Tapestry
An embroidery telling the story of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Bede
An English monk and historian. He lived from about 673 to 735.
Beowulf
A long poem about a hero, probably made up before AD 800, and written down later.
brooch
Ornament used to fasten clothing.
capital
The main town or centre of government of a country.
Celts
People in Britain before the Romans invaded in AD43.
Charlemagne
King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor.
charm
A magical object or words, to protect a person from harm.
Christian
A person who follows the religion taught by Jesus Christ.
conquer
To beat an enemy and control them using force.
court
The place where a king meets his followers and gives commands.
cremate
To burn a dead body to ashes.

E to L

evidence
Objects and facts that give clues as to what happened long ago.
freeman
A person who was not a slave and owned land.
Hadrian's Wall
Wall marking the northern frontier of Roman Britain.
historian
A person who studies the past.
hearth
A fireplace, usually in the middle of a house, and with no chimney.
influence
The effect of a person or things on another.
invaders
People who attack and try to take over land from other people.
Latin
Language of the Romans.
longship
Viking ship with a sail and oars.
loom
Machine for weaving cloth.
lyre
A small harp played at Anglo-Saxon feasts.

M to R

mail shirt
Armour made from chain mail, worn on the upper body.
monastery
The building where monks live.
monk
A male member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.
nun
A female member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.
oxen
Strong cattle used to pull carts and ploughs.
pagan
A person who worships many gods.
Picts
People who lived in Scotland at the time of Roman Britain.
Pope
Head of the Roman Catholic Church.
potter
Person who makes pots, jars and bowls from clay.
raider
An enemy who attacks and then goes away.
rank
Status or position in society.
Reconstruct
To rebuild something as it was.
riddle
A puzzle based on playing with words.
Romans
People who ruled an empire 2,000 years ago
runes
The letters of the Anglo-Saxon alphabet.

S to Z

Scots
People in Scotland; they called themselves Gaels - 'Scots' was a name the Romans gave them.
settlement
A place where people make their homes.
slave
A person who is not free but is owned and made to work by another.
smith
A worker who makes things from metal, usually iron.
strip fields
Long narrow ploughed fields.
Sutton Hoo
Site in Suffolk, England, of a king's ship-burial.
thane
An Anglo-Saxon nobleman who owned land.
thatch
A roof covered in straw or reeds.
tribe
A group of people who share a common background and culture.
Vikings
People from Scandinavia who were fighters, sea-travellers, traders and farmers.
walled
Having a defensive wall or wooden barrier around it, such as a walled town.
warrior
A person trained to fight in battle.
weaving
Making cloth.
well
A hole dug to supply drinking water to a settlement or house.
Wergild
Money paid to a murdered Anglo-Saxon's family by the murderer.
will
A document setting out how a person wants their possessions shared out after death.