ST EDMUND and the WOLF

Anybody who has heard the story of St Edmund will know about the WOLF that found his head. The animl stayed with the head while the party who had been looking for it reunited it with Edmund’s body. It stayed with them until they returned from the wood. But what are we to make of this charming story? Is it pure fantasy. like the story from the same account hat Edmund’s dead lips cried out to his comrades? Remember that he was said to have called out “Here, Here, Here”; these particular words  are very significant as we shall see. Or was it a story of religious significance as some commentators have suggested, based on animals’ activities in hagiographies of other saints? I don’t think that is very convincing.  I think it is (with a couple of minor variations) a true account of what actually happened on that day, the 20th of November 869. Let me explain.

Hellesdon Village sign showing St Edmund’s body and the wolf.

It has always been stressed that this was extraordinary behaviour for wolf to adopt, and  indeed it is. Why would a wolf be so interested in a severed head, except to eat it; and why would it walk peaceably back with people, who were its natural enemies? This was indeed strange behaviour for a wild wolf – but it was entirely natural behaviour for a dog – especially if the dog in question had been Edmund’s own pet.

What would be more believable than that Edmund had a dog? All his closest retainers had been killed by the Danes, and the party sent to look for his head would not have been familiar with his dog. They might not even have known that he possessed one. It must have been, moreover, a very wolf-like looking dog, but this is entirely believable too. Imagine Edmund’s  pooch disconsolately wandering off into Hellesdon wood to seek out its missing master, and finding his decapitated head lying on the forest floor. What would it do then but lie down by the remains and start whining in a piteous manner?

It is important to recognize that although the English language has changed greatly in the millennium since these events occurred, the word “here” has stayed the same both in sound and meaning. And a whining dog might very well be thought to be a human voice saying the words “Here, Here, Here”. It would be understandable that the searchers for Edmund’s head thought it was the head, not the dog, who uttered these words, especially given the more credulous nature of people in those days.

In this way the whole story makes sense. The peaceable animal, its attachment to the head, even the talking head. You just have to realise the readiness of contemporaries to leap to supernatural explanations for quite ordinary events to explain the miraculous slant the tale was given.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

joemasonspage@gmail.com

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: