‘Soggy Saints’:  Landscape and Sanctity in Medieval East Anglia
with Dr Rebecca Pinner (University of East Anglia)
at Sutton Hoo Saturday, 4th November, 2017

In the late tenth century, Abbo of Fleury described East Anglia as ‘washed by waters’. In this study day we shall explore the significance of water and wetlands in the legends and histories of East Anglian saints and their cults.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                Setting the Scene: Saints, Water and East Anglia – We will start by considering why East Anglian saints are so often associated with water and survey some of the key watery landscapes with reference to how they feature in some individual cults.

11.15 – 11.40:                Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:                Demons and Dysentery: The Fearful Fens? – Why did these wetlands hold such fear for non-fenland natives and why, conversely, were they so beloved of holy men and women? We will focus on the cult of St Guthlac in order to explore these questions.

12.40 – 14.00:                Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:                 Causeways and Communities – Causeways were more than practical means of crossing wetland landscapes and in this session we will explore some of their symbolic functions in saints’ lives, with particular reference to St Æthelthryth.

14.50 – 15.10:                Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:

Coastal Connections – East Anglia’s coastlines allowed for the dissemination of cults within the region and overseas and we will consider some examples of local cults, including St Edmund, which travelled abroad. We will also examine some of the ways in which the sea works as a symbol within saints’ lives.

c.16.00:                            Thanks and Close

About Dr Rebecca Pinner

Rebecca Pinner is a Lecturer in Medieval Literature and History at the University of East Anglia. Her primary research interests concern the relationship between literature, context and culture, the construction and dissemination of individual and collective identities, relationships between literature and other artefacts, and literature and place. Her first monograph was on The Cult of St Edmund in Medieval East Anglia (Boydell and Brewer, 2015) and her current research into saints and water forms the basis of today’s sessions.


When asked ‘What was best about the day?’ at a previous Study Day by Rebecca people said:

  • Very good day. Excellent speaker – first rate. 11 out of 10.
  • Wonderful! Inclusivity of speaker, clarity in speech and structure of the 4 talks
  • Liveliness of presentation and Rebecca’s positive responses to questions.
  • Very interesting presentation, varied pace, picking out themes. Approachable lecturer, full of ideas.
  • Enthusiasm and knowledge of the speaker
  • Everything. Excellent speaker. Fascinating information, desirable handouts
  • A wonderful range of slides and text resources. Rebecca was more than willing to deviate from her plans to answer people’s questions. Brilliant


Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Ayers, Brian. The German Ocean: Medieval Europe Around the North Sea, Studies in the Archaeology of Medieval Europe (2016)
  • Blanton, Virginia. Signs of Devotion: The Cult of St. Æthelthryth in Medieval England, 695–1615 (2007)
  • Catney, Steve & David Start, eds. Time and Tide: The Archaeology of the Witham Valley (2003)
  • Heslop, Sandy, Elizabeth Mellings & Margit Thøfner, ed. Art, Faith and Place in East Anglia (2012)
  • Matless, David. In the Nature of Landscape: Cultural Geography of the Norfolk Broads (2014)
  • Newton, Sam. ‘The Forgotten History of St Bótwulf (Botolph)’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History 43 (2016), 521-550.
  • Pinner, Rebecca. The Cult of St Edmund in Medieval East Anglia (2015)
  • Williamson, Tom. The Norfolk Broads: A Landscape History (1997)