Botwulf or Botulph founded a monastery at Iken-ho in the age when Anglia was slowly turning from pagan to Christian, and when the land was periodically disputed between Angles, Saxons and Danes all with strong links of kinship across the North Sea a day and a part-day's sail away. I could write a paragraph here about the misguided ignorance of historians still seeking to identify the location of geographically fixed cathedra from this age, when the bishop would travel with the king and his court in his progress around the three or four royal burghs and the See would be wherever the bishop was. Anyway, when Botwulf died around 680 his body was moved to Burgh, a place much troubled by a water-troll. Botwulf's success when alive in taming such creatures at Iken-ho perhaps gave belief that the ability survived his death. And indeed he was at Burgh for fifty years before being dug-up and moved again, this time to the Abbey at Bury, and one hears no more of the water-troll, so it may have worked.
The sole surviving Beowulf manuscript dates from around the eighth century when the tale was set-down by a scribe at Rendlesham in Suffolk. The version he wrote down features Dane names, but in the oral original the place names and person names would have altered with the audience, only the mythical-poetic elements remaining constant. A hero from across the water comes to the aid of a king troubled by a monster, or two monsters, or a monster and a dragon. Magic swords are usually involved, as are marshes, feasting halls, warriors and princesses. And exactly like pantomime, these epic tales incorporate issues of current concern, so the 'snapshot' taken by the Rendlesham scribe incorporates references to both Christianity and paganism.
Anyway, to Burgh in the pouring rain, safe in the brother's Disco, where we sat contemplating that fallow field to the north of the church all within an ancient Roman fort later used by the Anglo-Saxons, looking down to the valley and the flooded marshland to Grundisburgh, or Grendlesburgh. For here was indeed one of the Heorots and one of the Hrothgars of one of the versions of Beowulf, with a supporting cast of water-trolls and their mothers, gold sword hilts, buried treasure and miracles. And just a little bit of that old magic sparkled and into mind came a clear vision of the hunt and the supporters translocated here to this great fort; just for a few moments was this ancient place populated with spearmen and thanes, the clatter of harness and the thud of great horses. There is still a little magic here in Suffolk.
|The site of a Heorot; St Botwulf's church in the centre|