Saxons & King Alfred
By the time of King Alfred the Great, some of the Viking invaders had decided to attempt to settle in the lands they were raiding. Alfred came to the throne of Wessex just as these Danish attacks were becoming strongest. As the warfare intensified, the invaders would make peace and then break their oaths and launch surprise attacks. In 878, when the Saxons were celebrating Twelfth Night, the Danes launched a major attack. Many Saxons were killed and only a handful of faithful men remained with Alfred, who hid out in the marshes and swamps on the Isle of Athelney.
The church nearest to Athelney was at nearby Aller. It is very likely that Alfred would have gone there to pray and ask for God’s help at this time when all seemed lost. Meanwhile Saxon sword smiths were working to make new weapons, and new plans were being made.
Seven weeks after Easter, King Alfred rode out to a rendezvous at the edge of Selwood, where men from Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire gathered to form a new army. They fought the Danes on the Wiltshire downs, near Edington and won a great victory.
Guthrum, the leader of the Danes, fled to Chippenham where he surrendered and agreed an unusual peace treaty. The Danes would leave and settle in the North-East of England, an area known as the Danelaw. In return Guthrum and some of his leading followers offered to accept the Christian faith and be baptised.
Alfred and Guthrum travelled back together to the little church at Aller, where the baptism took place – perhaps, the locals say, in this very font. Alfred himself stood sponsor (Godparent) for Guthrum and Guthrum received the noble Saxon name of Athelstan. Had Guthrum won, Alfred would have died by the Viking ritual torture of “Bloodeagle”.
Curiously this unusual peace treaty held. Was it that the personality of Alfred had so impressed Guthrum – his courage, nobility and faith?
In time, monks spread the Christian faith throughout the Danelaw and Alfred’s successors eventually united the whole of England into a single kingdom.
A monastery was built on the island of Athelney as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to God for the victory.Bookmark