What did the Anglo-Saxons believe?

In Roman Britain many people had been Christians. But the early Anglo-Saxons were not Christians, they were pagans.

After the Romans left, Christianity continued in places where Anglo-Saxons did not settle, like Wales and the west. However, when the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain they brought their own gods and beliefs with them.

Over time their beliefs changed and many Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity.

What early beliefs did they have?

Like the Vikings and the Greeks, the Anglo-Saxons believed in many gods and had many superstitions.

The king of the Anglo-Saxon gods was Woden, a German version of the Scandinavian god Odin, who had two pet wolves and a horse with eight legs.

Other gods were Thunor, god of thunder; Frige, goddess of love; and Tiw, god of war. These four Anglo-Saxon gods gave their names to the days of the week. Tiw became Tuesday, Woden - Wednesday, Thunor - Thursday and Frige - Friday.

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

The Gosforth Cross in St Mary's Church, Gosforth has carvings showing scenes from Anglo-Saxon mythology
Find out how three important monks brought Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons living in Britain

Anglo-Saxon monasteries

In AD597 the Pope in Rome decided it was time the Anglo-Saxons in Britain heard about Christianity.

He sent a monk called Augustine to persuade the king to become a Christian. Over the next 100 years, many Anglo-Saxons turned to Christianity and new churches and monasteries were built.

Monasteries were centres of learning. Monks and nuns spent their time in prayer. They also studied and worked in fields and workshops. Monks copied out books by hand and decorated the pages in beautiful colours.

Monasteries were the only schools in Anglo-Saxon England. Boys went to live there to train as monks and some girls became nuns.

Who was Bede?

An English monk called Bede lived in the monastery at Jarrow in Northumbria. He went to live with monks in 680, when he was just seven 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'.

This is the first page of Bede's 'History of the English Church and People'. It begins with a decorated letter B (from 'Britain'). The book was made in the 9th century.

What do Anglo-Saxon graves tell us?

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 person’s life.

Men's graves included knives and spears, which suggests hunting, fighting and farming. Women's graves included tools used for sewing and weaving.

One child's grave in Essex had the bones of a dog in it. Perhaps this was a pet.

In 1939, an amazing discovery was made at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. Archaeologists found traces of an Anglo-Saxon ship and many precious objects.

This was the grave of a king, probably King Redwald of East Anglia. He died around AD625.

Find out what the artefacts found at Sutton Hoo tell us about Anglo-Saxon beliefs
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