The Legend of Wayland The Wonder-Smith
with Dr Sam Newton,
at Sutton Hoo on Saturday, 17th May 2014.


A new look at the once widely known legend of Wayland (Old English Wéland), Lord of Elves according to the Old Norse poem Völundarkviða.  It is an apt legend to invoke at Sutton Hoo, for it is clear from the surviving sources that he was especially remembered as a highly gifted maker of the best sword-blades and their bejeweled fittings.  For when we see the astonishing levels of artistic and technical skill that went into the making of the treasure-sword from Sutton Hoo, we wonder whose hands could have created such a superb weapon in the seventh century, and how.  At the time it is very likely that it would have been explained as Wélandes geweorc, “the work of Wayland”.

So we shall attempt to reconstruct what we can of Wayland’s legend from the sometimes riddle-like references in Old English poetry (such as the one by King Ælfred cited on the front page), Old Norse saga and verse, as well as landscape, folklore, and art.  We shall also consider the artistic allusions carved into the front panel of the mysterious Anglo-Saxon box known as the Franks’ Casket (now in the British Museum), where scenes from Wayland’s legend are juxtaposed with a depiction of the Nativity.  We will address the question this raises: what has Wayland to do with Christ?

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:         Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:         The legend of Wayland in the landscape

11.15 – 11.45:         Coffee break

11.45 – 12.45:         Wayland in the verse and art (1)

12.45 – 14.00:         Lunch break

14.00 – 15.00:         Wayland in the verse and art (2)

15.00 – 15.20:         Tea break

15.20 – 16.20:         What has Wayland to do with Christ?

c.16.20:                   Thanks and Close

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Alexander, M., The First Poems in English (Penguin Classics 2008)
Chaney, W.A., The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester 1970)
Coatsworth, E., & M.Pinder, The Art of the Anglo-Saxon Goldsmith – Fine Metalwork in Anglo-Saxon England: Its Practice and Practitioners (Boydell 2002)
Evans, A.C., The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial (British Museum 1986)
Haymes, E.R., & S.T.Samples, Heroic Legends of the North: An Introduction to the Nibelung and Dietrich Cycles (New York & London 1996)
Heaney, Seamus (tr.) Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition, ed. J.Niles (Norton 2007)
Pollington, S., Wayland’s  Work: Anglo-Saxon Art, Myth and Material Culture from the 4th to the 7th Century (Anglo-Saxon Books 2010)
Speake, G., Anglo-Saxon Animal Art (Oxford 1980)
Webster, L., & J.Backhouse, The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600-900 (British Museum 1991)
Webster, L., Anglo-Saxon Art (British Museum 2012)

About Dr Sam Newton

samSam 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 and NADFAS lecturer.


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