For the first time, archaeologists have been able to date the
final phase of the Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England.
Although the rulers of most ofthe Anglo-Saxon kingdoms
officially converted from paganism to Christianity at various times
between AD597 and 655, some evidence now suggests that up to 20 per
cent of the population still continued to maintain
pagan-originating traditions, especially in terms of burial
But new archaeological research, from a project funded by
English Heritage, shows that the practice of the pagan burial
tradition, namely the use of grave goods, came to an abrupt end in
Up until that time, about 20 per cent of women had been buried
with their jewellery, and sometimes also with other possessions. In
some places, up to ten per cent of men were still buried with their
The abrupt end to the practice, discovered through a
chronological analysis of almost 600 Anglo-Saxon graves, seems to
have come about as a direct result of the arrival in England of a
newly appointed and particularly zealous Archbishop of Canterbury-
a Byzantine monk, Theodore.
Apart from pagan burial rites, English Christianity was beset
with many other challenges: disagreements over how to calculate the
date of Easter, tonsure styles, episcopal authority, and incestuous
marriages. Sixty years later, in The Ecclesiastical History of
the English People, the Venerable Bede wrote that Theodore was
"the first Archbishop whom the whole Church in England agreed to
Theodore became Archbishop at a difficult time in Anglo-Saxon
Christian history. Besides the various disagreements over Easter
and other matters, the see of Canter-bury had been vacant for two
Also, it appears that it was not viewed as a particularly
desirable posting. The then Pope, Vitalian, offered the job to two
potential candidates, who both turned the post down. In the end, a
third candidate, Theodore, took on the task, at - for that time -
the advanced age of 67. Remarkably, he served as Archbishop of
Canterbury for 21 years, dying at the age of 88.
The final termination of pagan burial traditions in the 670s
would have been of considerable political significance. The newly
analysed archaeological evidence suggests that it was potentially
influential elements of the Anglo-Saxon élite that had been
clinging to their pagan-originating burial practices.
John Hines, Professor of Archaeology at the University of
Cardiff, who has been working with English Heritage on the project,
said: "The new research sheds unexpected light on how, around the
eighth decade of the seventh century, Christianity consolidated its
hold over the lives and experiences of everyone in England."
Professor Hines, and English Heritage's scientific-dating
expert, Alex Bayliss, together with other specialists, used
advanced computer software to analyse radio-carbon dating evidence
to narrow down the key decade for the final end of pagan burial
tradition in England to the 670s.