In recent years, God has revealed to us more about several saints of these Isles, most notably St Edward the Martyr, but there have been other miracles too, concerning St Alfred, St Edmund, St John of Beverley, St Botolph and St Birinus, for example. The Lord seems to be speaking through the local saints of old to a modern society that has utterly lost its way in unsaintliness. The latest in this series of revelations may concern St Edwin (584-633), whose feast day it is today according to the Orthodox calendar (12/25 October).
With the help of a professional archaeologist, a group from a village called Cuckney near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire may be about to find the true site of the martyrdom of England’s first Christian king. Cuckney could soon have a place in St Edwin’s story, with the possibility that this village, and not the town of Hatfield, located to the north east of Doncaster some 40 miles away, is the actual site of the Battle of Hatfield of 633. There have been clues before – at the time of the battle, the Cuckney area was known as Hatfield, while nearby Edwinstowe mean’s ‘Edwin’s shrine’. Then there is St Edwin’s Cross, which marks the site of a chapel erected in 1201, where a hermit prayed to Edwin, who had been proclaimed a saint by the people in the years after his death.
Tradition has it that St Edwin’s relics were taken from the battlefield by his own men and secretly buried to protect his remains from his pagan conquerors. But it was a discovery by a group of workmen at St Mary’s Church in Cuckney in 1951 that interested historians. As they dug down through the floor of the church to support the Norman structure against recent mining activity, they discovered skeletons. Not one or two, but hundreds – maybe up to 200, all laid out in rows, all with their feet facing east. Villagers who remember the discovery have described skulls being piled up in the corner of the church for weeks before their reburial.
This is the first problem for archaeologists and the Battle of Hatfield Investigation Society, who have joined up to try and prove that St Edwin was martyred in Cuckney and not in Yorkshire, as official history tells us. Andrew Gaunt, the director of Mercian Archaeology, who is working with the group, believes that the bodies represent the site of a massacre. He also believes that the most likely explanation for their current whereabouts is that they were simply put back where they were found. He said: ‘Often churches were built on the sites of burial mounds and it is reasonable to assume at this stage that the bodies pre-date the church. Where you get a lot of bodies buried together, it can suggest that they’ve been caught in a bottle neck during a battle, as people were typically buried close to where they fell’.
St Mary’s Church sits at the foot of a gentle valley, quite close to the river, and Mr Gaunt believes that the men were possibly driven down the hill in the battle and slaughtered, trapped between the invading force, steep hills and the river. A church at the site is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086, but the present building dates from the twelfth century. Joseph Waterfall, from the Battle of Hatfield Investigation Society, said: ‘We believe King Edwin was slain in the fields near Cuckney, hence the reason for the 200 or so skeletons. But the history books state that he was slain north-east of Doncaster, but no evidence was ever produced to support this claim’.
With modern carbon dating technology, access to the skeletons would allow archaeologists to date them to a specific period – perhaps dating the remains to the approximate time of King Edwin’s death. And more importantly, along with the other evidence from the local area, it may pinpoint the site of the death of England’s first Christian king to Nottinghamshire. ‘Edwin is England’s first Christian king and he was killed by pagans, so historically that makes him hugely significant’, said Andrew Gaunt. ‘We know from the records that bodies were discovered from about 18 inches down and they may have gone down to about seven feet deep. If we can gain access to the bodies and date those bodies to the time of Edwin’s death, then with all the other evidence around us, we can reasonably conclude that Cuckney is the actual site of the Battle of Hatfield’.