• Follow Us:
Is Suffolk the real home of Beowulf?

News ArticleIs Suffolk the real home of Beowulf?

It’s #WoodbridgeWednesday – and we have a very exciting event heading our way this week…

A festival of magic, music and mystery is coming to Woodbridge, dedicated to the famous Beowulf poem. Here, the mayor of the town Clare Perkins, who has penned her own poem to create a trail around activities planned, explores the links between the 7th century manuscript and East Anglia.

Most English counties can call upon a famous poet or two but it appears that Suffolk might have the proud claim to have inspired one of the greatest and most celebrated poems in the English language.

With more than 3,000 lines of verse dedicated to battles with monsters and dragons and the quest to unearth a hoard of treasure, Beowulf is a great Saxon epic which has impacted hugely on our imagination, sense of heroism and valour and the triumph of good over evil.

Experts have long suspected the 7th century work, although set in Scandinavia, was actually composed right here.

And the evidence to back this up is abundant.

After all, it is the description of mighty funerals within the text that make a concrete link with Suffolk; burials in boats, burials surrounded by treasure, burials under mounds.

On Sutton Heath, a burial ship was found in 1939 that echoes all these images.

Royal regalia excavated there, and now in the British Museum, prove that the cultural origins of both the Sutton Hoo material and the poem are one and the same. For example, the iconography and general design of the great royal helmet found at Sutton Hoo is uncannily similar to royal battle masks described in Beowulf. In fact, ‘mask’ is really a more appropriate term than ‘helmet’ as the front of the Sutton Hoo head-gear would have entirely covered the face.

The battle mask in the poem boasts images of boars above the cheek-guards. So, does the Sutton Hoo example. In the poem, the helmet’s iron upper crest is described as being bound with wire. So is the Sutton Hoo version.

In Beowulf, many gold and gem-encrusted weapons are mentioned. The sword unearthed at Sutton Hoo parallels these descriptions exactly – including a gold decorated hilt and scabbard of the Sutton Hoo royal sword inlaid with cut garnets.

Other burials in Snape reinforce our belief that these heroic tales so poetically described are built upon the true events surrounding the first invasions of Britain by the Saxons.

In terms of further connections with Scandinavia, the East Anglian royal dynasty, the Wuffings are likely to have been descendants of the Geatish Wuffing- the powerful clan described in Beowulf.

Suffolk is also riddled with geological and man-made depressions in the form of grundles – a name unique to East Anglia which describes very deep hollow ways with steep banks.

The monster Grendel from the epic poem resided in these low-lying watery places, one of which can be found in Stanton, Bury St Edmunds, often described as Grendel’s Lair.

In May, a community festival to celebrate Beowulf and its connections to Suffolk is coming to Woodbridge with a vast selection of events planned for children and adults alike.

Backing the festival is broadcasterJohn McCarthy, once a resident of the town, who has written extensively on its history.

He said: “Woodbridge is a fitting location for a Beowulf Festival.

“Raiders from the North, feats of daring and Kingly burials are part of our local folklore and Romans, Anglo Saxons and Vikings have all tested their courage against these East Suffolk elements.

“This is an opportunity to demonstrate the sense of culture and community that is so important to the town and its river. Coming together, celebrating our sense of history and values, is what Woodbridge does so well.”

  • Clare has teamed up with JAN PULSFORD a composer, producer, songwriter, virtual artist and long time explorer in the electronic world of music technology in the UK and USA to produce this festival.

The Spirit of Beowulf Festival comes to Woodbridge Suffolk from May 3rd to May 7th.

For a full programme of events visit http://www.beowulffestival.co.uk