18 Sep 2011

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (13): Goodmanham, Yorkshire

Goodmanham is now a small village in the Eastern part of Yorkshire, but in the 7th century it was the site of an important temple of the Germanic god Woden.

We know this because of the account written by the Christian monk Bede of the conversion of the Northumbrians in the year 627 during the reign of King Edwin. As with most other conversions to Christianity in this period, it was a top-down process, emanating from the king and his inner circle. Edwin appears to have been influenced by contacts with Kent - an important ally - and the Frankish kingdom, then the dominant Germanic state.

The top-down nature of this conversion is unwittingly revealed in Bede's extremely biased and incomplete version of events in the "Ecclesiastical History of the English People."

Bede mentions a council of "wise men" summoned by the king to discuss the adoption of Christiantity at which Coifi the high priest of Woden speaks:

"King, consider what this is which is now preached to us; for I verily declare to you what I have learnt beyond doubt, that the religion which we have hitherto professed has no virtue in it and no profit. For none of your people has applied himself more diligently to the worship of our gods than I; and yet there are many who receive greater favours from you, and are more preferred than I, and are more prosperous in all that they undertake to do or to get."

As the king had already accepted Christianity, this suggests that he was snubbing Coifi on account of his religion and that the priest of Woden had decided that the best way to regain the royal favour was to betray his ancestral religion.

"Now if the gods were good for any thing, they would rather forward me, who have been careful to serve them with greater zeal. It remains, therefore, that if upon examination you find those new doctrines, which are now preached to us, better and more efficacious, we hasten to receive them without any delay"

As soon as the religious coup d'état had been decided on, Coifi immediately volunteered to desecrate the temple of Woden.

"Then immediately, in contempt of his vain superstitions," writes Bede, "he desired the king to furnish him with arms and a stallion, that he might mount and go forth to destroy the idols; for it was not lawful before for the high priest either to carry arms, or to ride on anything but a mare. Having, therefore, girt a sword about him, with a spear in his hand, he mounted the king's stallion, and went his way to the idols. The multitude, beholding it, thought that he was mad; but as soon as he drew near the temple he did not delay to desecrate it by casting into it the spear which he held; and rejoicing in the knowledge of the worship of the true God, he commanded his companions to tear down and set on fire the temple, with all its precincts. This place where the idols once stood is still shown, not far from York, to the eastward, beyond the river Derwent, and is now called Godmunddingaham, where the high priest, by the inspiration of the true God, profaned and destroyed the altars which he had himself consecrated."

In accordance with Christian practice of building churches on the sites of former pagan sites, we can conclude that All Hallow's Church Goodmanham now illegally occupies the holy site of the temple of Woden. May the time come when it is returned.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. What poetic justice it would be if mighty Thunor should strike down the shavelings' temple with one of His mighty bolts.