The Cawood Sword

The Cawood Sword

It’s amazing what you can find on the river bed. We were on holiday one year and someone collected fifteen mobile ‘phones and three wallets. Shopping trolleys are the usual find at a particular spot on my local river. But I always hope that one day I might discover a sword just like someone did in the late 1800s.

The Viking sword was found on the bed of the River Ouse by Cawood Castle in Yorkshire. It still remains the best example of a Viking sword that we have although a near identical one was found in Norway, too. It was very well preserved and as such gives a rare glimpse into Viking style and metalwork.

The elegance of this sword is remarkable. In its heyday it must have been a beautiful and striking object, obviously belonging to someone of influence and wealth.The quality of the steel matches its beauty. The exceptionally high carbon content shows that the sword was made of the hardest steel available at the time.This could also explain why the sword was so very well preserved.

There is an inscription that runs down the blade of the sword. On one side, it’s in capital Roman letters that do not form known words. On the other side, it’s in Lombardic script, undecipherable as well.  The theory is that this may be a spell to give invincibility.

Until the 1950s the Cawood sword was displayed at the Tower of London, but then it was sold to a private collector. Fortunately, after almost fifty years in private possession, the Yorkshire Museum in York took ownership, where it can be seen today. Of course, there is no need to rush to see it as it’s obviously magic and designed to last forever.

Just like shopping trolleys.

© 2016 A.J. Sefton

Why Society Needs Historians

Everyone should read this…

The Social Historian

‘Society doesn’t need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian. It needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward.’

Thus spake Patrick Johnston, Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, in a newspaper interview on 30 May this year.

In doing so, he not only proved the old adage that ‘To err is human, but to really foul things up requires Management’, but he also singlehandedly alienated half of his staff, and pretty much the whole historical profession.

Johnston, it must be remembered, was an oncologist before going into university leadership, so he’s one of the Good Guys. He deserves our respect.

But this doesn’t stop this being stupid, philistine, nonsense. A university VC who doesn’t understand what the humanities do would be…

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When we Should Celebrate the Farmers: Saint Walstan


There is a farm in the valley where I live. When I first moved here in 1996, there was also a dairy farm but now there are only sheep and crops. I like the rural flavour that farms bring. The seasons are portrayed through the jobs: sowing, harvesting, hay stacks, golden fields of wheat and vibrant yellow rapeseed. And where would any of us be without farmers?

30 May is the feast of Saint Walstan (died 1016) who was born either in Bawburgh in Norfolk, or Blythburgh in Suffolk, and because of his life dedicated to farming and the care of farm animals, is the patron saint of farms, farmers, farmhands, farm animals, ranchers and husbandrymen.

The story goes that Walston left home at the age of twelve and travelled to Taverham in Norfolk. There he worked as a farm labourer. He had the reputation as a hard worker and also as a compassionate soul. He gave food and clothing to the poor and needy, including his shoes, so was often barefoot. Walston was very pious and therefore prayed and fasted a lot.

While he was scything a hay crop, Walston had a vision of an angel and he died there shortly after. His body was put on a cart and pulled by two white oxen to his burial site at Bawburgh. The ox stopped three times during the journey and at each resting point, a spring sprung.

By popular demand, he was declared a saint and a small chapel was built off the existing church of St Mary, giving it a new dedication of St Mary and St Walstan. His shrine was visited by many pilgrims as well as local farmers.

Saint Walstan is represented in religious art  with a scythe in his hand and cattle near him. Icons dating from before the English Reformation occur mostly in Norfolk and Suffolk, but in modern times his cult has extended to Buckinghamshire, Kent and to Rongai in Kenya, where a church was dedicated to St Walstan in 1988. Well I suppose they have farms in Kenya too.

St Walstan’s Day is celebrated each year in Bawburgh when a special Patronal Service takes place on the nearest Sunday to 30 May, his feast date. I would miss the views of the farm by my home, the seasons played out before me, the tranquility of the sheep. So, in honour of Saint Walstan and the farms, I will feast on locally farmed produce and maybe a cup or two of English cider.

Happy Saint Walston’s Day.

© 2016 A.J. Sefton