Unusual Christian/Pagan Grave Discovered in England

Ancient Anglo-Saxon “bed burials”–in which the deceased is laid out in a real bed, often with possessions–are rare enough, but they have turned up in England before. Solid gold pectoral crosses are also extremely rare finds in English burials, but again: not completely unknown.

But finding a Christian symbol on a person buried in the old pagan ways? That’s rare enough to make headlines.

How rare? Well, including this one, that makes two. The burials date from maybe the 7th or 8th century, and the cross was found with the body of a young woman laid out in a pagan bed burial. She was probably the Christian daughter of a prominent pagan family:

Forensic work on the first woman’s bones suggests she was about 16, with no obvious explanation for her early death. Although she was almost certainly a Christian, buried with the beautiful cross stitched into place on her gown, she was buried according to ancient pagan tradition with some treasured possessions including an iron knife and a chatelaine, a chain hanging from her belt, and some glass beads which were probably originally in a purse that has rotted away.

The field where she lay, now being developed for housing at the edge of the village of Trumpington on the outskirts of Cambridge, hid a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement. It may have been a wealthy monastic settlement – more of it probably lies under the neighbouring farm and farmyard – although there are no records of any church earlier than the 12th century village church which overlooks the site.

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The Oldest Monastery in Europe?

Does new research push the date of a monastery in Bulgaria, founded by St. Athanasius himself, back to 344 AD? Definitely maybe:

Bulgarian archaeologists have uncovered what they believe is the oldest Christian monastery in Europea near the village of Zlatna Livada in southern Bulgaria.

According to latest archaeological research, the St. Athanasius monastery, still functioning near the village, has been founded in 344 by St. Athanasius himself, reports the BGNES agency.
Until now, the Candida Casa monastery, founded in 371 AD in Galloway, Scotland, was believed to be the oldest Christian monastery in Europe, followed by the St. Martin monastery in the Pyrénées-Orientales, France (373 AD).

Archaeologists have examined objects in a hermit’s cave and shrine located near the present St. Athanasius monastery in Bulgaria, and found evidence that the great saint might have resided there.

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Illuminated Manuscripts in the Classroom

Initial Letter of Genesis, The Wenceslas Bible c. 1389

Despite the fact that this NY Times story about teaching kids the techniques of medieval illuminated manuscripts never uses the words monkmonastery, Bible, Catholic, church, or even religion (do Times writers get some kind of bonus in their paycheck for that?), it’s still an interesting subject.

Her class at the Gordon Parks School for Inquisitive Minds (P.S./I.S. 270) in Queens is part of the Morgan Book Project, which aims to instill in children of the digital age an appreciation for books by providing authentic materials to write, illustrate and construct their own medieval and Renaissance-inspired illuminated manuscripts. The free program was developed by the Morgan Library and Museum with the New York City Department of Education for public school grades 3 through 7.

Ms. Owens said she thought her students acquired a greater affinity for physical books after designing and building one. “They see the process involved and can look at books as an art form,” she said. “When I suggest that they are doing something that keeps this art form alive, it makes them feel important.”

Institutions like the Morgan, with collections drawn from the printed word, are balancing the digital and physical worlds with their offerings and finding ways to embrace both. Marie H. Trope-Podell, book project creator and manager of gallery programs at the Morgan, said that although the book project was a way to instill the importance of physical books in the next generation of readers, “it is not a rebellion or reaction against the digital book — quite the opposite.”

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