Pre-Christian Fertility Cults in Britain and the Origins of St Valentine’s Day
with Dr Sam Newton (Independent Scholar)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 14th February, 2015.



We begin with a look at the Old English calendar and how it has enhanced our understanding of the pre-Christian narratives associated with the continuing and successful management of the farming year in Britain. We shall then examine recent research into the Iceni and the Romano-British treasure hoard from Thetford, which has revealed some fascinating insights into Romano-Iceni fertility cult. Prominent in the Thetford Treasure is evidence for the Roman fertility spirit Faunus, whose ancient rite of Lupercalia was celebrated in the middle of February. We shall see how these curious rites may underlie later Germanic legends, and especially the traditions associated with St Valentine’s Day.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                The Old English Farming Calendar

11.15 – 11.40:                Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:                East Anglia before the Angles

12.40 – 13.45:                Lunch break

13.45 – 14.35:                 Thetford & the Thetford Treasure

14.35 – 14.55:               Tea break

14.55 – 15.45:                The Cult of Faunus & the Origins of St Valentine’s Day

c.15.45:                            Thanks and Close

About Dr Sam Newton

Sam Newton was awarded his Ph.D in 1991 and is the author of The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia (1993) and The Reckoning of King Rædwald (2003). He has lectured widely around the country as an independent scholar and has contributed to many radio and television programmes, especially Time Team.. He is a Director of Wuffing Education, NADFAS lecturer, and tutor for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Alexander, M., The First Poems in English (Penguin Classics 2008)

Branston, B., The Lost Gods of England (Thames & Hudson 1957, 1974)

Chaney, W.A., The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester 1970)

Davies, J., The Land of Boudica: Prehistoric and Roman Norfolk (Oxbow 2009)

Ellis Davidson, H., The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe (Routledge 1993)

Hoggett, R., The Archaeology of the East Anglian Conversion (Woodbridge 2010)

Hutton, R., The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (Oxford 1996)

Johns, Catherine, & T.Potter (eds), The Thetford Treasure: Roman Jewellery and Silver (British Museum 1983).

Nash Briggs, Daphne, “The language of inscriptions on Icenian coinage”, in Davies, J. (ed.),The Iron Age in Northern East Anglia: New Work in the Land of the Iceni, BAR British Series 549 (Oxford 2011), pp. 83–102.

Nash Briggs, Daphne, “Sacred image and regional identity in late-prehistoric Norfolk”, in Heslop, T.A., E.Mellings, & M.Thøfner (eds), Art, Faith and Place in East Anglia – from Prehistory to the Present (The Boydell Press 2012).

Nash Briggs, Daphne, “An emphatic statement: the Undley-A gold bracteate and its message in fifth-century AD East Anglia”, in Sekunda, Nicholas (ed.), Wonders Lost and Found. A Book to Celebrate the Archaeological Work of Professor Michael Vickers (Monograph Series Akanthina, Gdańsk 2014).

North, R., Heathen Gods in Old English Literature (Cambridge 1997)

Oppenheimer, S., The Origins of the British: The new prehistory of Britain and Ireland from Ice-Age hunter gatherers to the Vikings as revealed by DNA analysis (new ed., Constable 2007)

Pestell, T., “Paganism in early Anglo-Saxon East Anglia”, in Heslop, T.A., E.Mellings, & M.Thøfner (eds), Art, Faith and Place in East Anglia – from Prehistory to the Present (The Boydell Press 2012).

Turville-Petre, G., Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia (London 1964)

Webster, L., and J.Backhouse, The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600-900 (British Museum 1991)

Wilson, R., The Lost Literature of Medieval England (Methuen 1952, 1970)