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Goodmanham – a sacred religious site in Pagan times and a turning point in Yorkshire’s spiritual & political history




I first came across Goodmanham during lockdown when my wife and I decided to explore the Yorkshire Wolds a bit more. This less well known area of Yorkshire is home to many walking trails, picturesque villages, England’s most northerly chalk hills and a wealth of heritage from the Neolithic to the present day.

 

There are high hopes that the area will be awarded National Landscape status this year (formerly AONB or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), which would help raise its profile.

 

We found a route for a loop walk from Market Weighton to Londesborough, and part way round walked past the old church in Goodmanham before stumbling on a great little pub which was cosy and brewed its own ale called the Goodmanham Arms. We obviously had to stop for a quick pint. It was in the pub that a local told me that the site of the church had been a Pagan temple and I should explore further.

I made a note to do my research and return.

 

Goodmanham has a favourable position on a south facing on the spur of a chalk slope on th edge of the Wolds. There are two streams and a number of fresh springs in the area. There are many ancient burial sites from the Neolithic and Bronze Age in the area, as well as holy wells and an ancient routeway which the Roman’s eventually turned into one of their Roman roads between the Humber and their fort in Malton.

 

Fast forward to the era of Anglo Saxon occupation.  Goodmanham lay within the Anglian kingdom of Diera (roughly modern Yorkshire), which eventually joined with Bernicia in the Northeast to form the Anglo Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria (roughly translated as the area North of the Humber).


Northumbria was ruled by King Edwin from 625, who was a Pagan and worshipped the “old gods”. But this was about to change. (Stained glass showing Edwin in Sledmere Church)

 

We know much of the story of what happened at Goodmanham from the writings of the Venerable Bede, who in 731 published the “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”. But he talks about Goodmanham being a “place east of York near the River Derwent”.

 

Northumbria was an important Kingdom and King Edwin was the “Bretwalda” which meant he was the overlord of other Anglo Saxon Kingdoms ruled by other kings. Goodmanham was home to the high shrine of Northumbria, based on a man-made mound on the site of the present All Hallows Church.

 

Whilst the only kingdom he was not overlord of was Kent, he made an alliance which he planned to cement by marrying a Kentish Princess. Princess Ethelburgh had already been converted to Chritsianity by Roman Catholic missionaries who had arrived from Rome in the South of England. She would only agree to be married if she could bring her priest Paulinus with her to Northumbria.


Upon arrival Paulinus set about converting King Edwin from worshipping the old Gods to Christianity. He spent two years persuading Edwin of the benefits of the new faith and after escaping an assassination attempt, winning in battle and the birth of a daughter, Edwin was persuaded.

 

Edwin called his councillors to his great hall in Londesborough to communicate his decision and had Paulinus address them. Edwin’s High Priest Coifi, once a pagan who was instantly converted and stated according to Bede that “the religion we have hitherto confessed seems valueless and powerless”. 

 

Coifi then suggested destroying the Pagan Temple stating and put himself forwqrd to carry out the deed -  “I advise that we now burn the useless sanctuary – and who better than myself, as an example?”.

 



Kind Edwin approved his request and so with a borrowed war stallion and a war axe (which as a priest would have been forbidden to him), he rode to the Pagan Temple at Goodmanham. In front of a horrified crowd, he flung the war axe at the holy place and proceeded to smash pagan idols around the altar.

 

Upon seeing that Coifi was not struck down by lightning and so believing the old gods were powerless, he was joined by others who set fire to the temple and smashed the altar. Coifi then preached to the gathered crowd to take up the new more powerful Christian faith which had been adopted by their king.

 

On Easter Sunday a few days later, King Edwin and many of his family and close followers were baptised at a hastily constructed wooden church in York by Paulinus. The church was close to the old Roman Fort, and whilst its exact location is debated, the Church was dedicated to St.Peter and is now recognised as the earliest iteration of the famous gothic masterpiece known now as York Minster.

 

After the Pagan Temple was destroyed, Goodmanham lost much of its religious and political importance. A small Anglian Christian church replaced the temple.

 



A stone Norman church replaced the wooden version and then additions have been made in the 13th and 15thCenturies. You can still see the original Norman round archway in the chancel.

 



There is not any evidence of the original Pagan Temple destroyed by Coifi, but more recently a stained glass window was commissioned and installed in the church telling more about the story of the event.

 



The Millenium Window, shows on the left hand side the spiritual history of the village including King Edwin’s coversion to Christianity by Bishop Paulinus as well as High Priest Coifi destroying the temple. The glass also shows the building of the first stone church as well as a pilgrimage by the Archbishop of York, the Dean & Chapter in 1927 to commemorate 1300 years of Christian worship on the site.

 

The right hand side of the window depicts the more pastoral history of the village, showing farming techniques through the ages, a corn dolly and a group of hikers walking the Wolds Way long distant footpath.

 

The church is actually named All Hallows Church which is a nod to its heritage. All Hallows means All Saints – a nod to the fact that not just Christian Saints but other pagan dieties were worshipped on the site.

 

2 Comments


nick
Feb 20

Another masterpiece of research and succinct yet fascinating summary of a significant change in our early history. Thanks again to Tim

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Andrew Lunn
Andrew Lunn
Feb 20

Great post we learn something about of heritage and fills me with joy. With the destruction of our country to Islam posts like this keep our history alive.

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