British archaeologists have examined the Anchor Church Caves in Derbyshire and found that they were used as cells long before local aristocrats began to host dinners in them in the 18th century. Scientists believe that between 806 and 830, Saint Hardulf, who was probably the ousted Anglo-Saxon king Erdwulf, could have lived and prayed here. The opening is reported by the Royal Agricultural University on its website.
Anchor Church is a group of caves located near the village of Ingleby in Derbyshire. They got their name from the Greek word "hermit", as the local legend says that Saint Hardulf lived and prayed here. It originated from a fragment of a 16th century printed book, which said that Hardulf had a cell in a rock near Trent at the time. Historians, based on data from the burial lists of saints, suggest that this man was the overthrown king Erdwulf, but this is not an indisputable statement.
Erdwulf became king of Northumbria (an early medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom located in the territory of modern Northern England and Southeast Scotland) in 796, but after only ten years he was overthrown and he went into exile. However, according to Frankish sources, he returned to his kingdom in 808. No precise data on his possible second accession to the throne, further life and death have been preserved.
Scientists from the Royal Agricultural University and the archaeological company Wessex Archeology, led by Edmund Simons, surveyed the Anchor Church Caves, officially considered an important regional geological site of natural origin, but slightly modified in the late 18th century. The walls, doors and narrow windows, as well as the interior columns, were obviously man-made or cut through.
After detailed measurements, drone surveys and architectural details, scientists were able to restore the original plan of three rooms, as well as an east-facing chapel or chapel. The narrow doorways and windows in the rooms are very reminiscent of Saxon architecture. The pillar carved into the rock is similar to those found in the crypt of the nearby town of Repton, which was built by King Wiglaf around 827–839. The architectural similarity, according to Simons, convincingly proves that the cave was rebuilt in the 9th century.
Simons is convinced of the veracity of the local legend that Saint Hardulf (King Erdwulf) lived in the cave, who hid there from enemies after his overthrow. It was previously known that Anchor Church was used by local aristocrats for celebrations in the 18th century. However, archaeologists now believe that the caves were used as a home at least about 1200 years ago - between the overthrow of Erdwulf in 806 and his death in 830. This house was probably specially prepared to house the exiled king. During this era, members of the royal family often devoted themselves to religion, so some of them were subsequently revered as saints. Living in a cave as a hermit is one option.
This discovery is arguably the oldest intact interior in Britain. Simons noticed that churches from that era have survived to this day, but there are no rooms where people slept, ate and prayed. Cave dwellings are often overlooked by historians, but they can provide new insights into the lives of people in early medieval England.