Pastoral Letter for October

The saga continues...!

In the year 865, the so-called "Great Heathen Army" from Scandinavia began its raids on the East Anglia, led be a freared and mighty warrior, named (at least in English history books) Ivar the Boneless.  However, in Swedish, his "real" name is Ivar Benlös.  Now, "ben" in Swedish means not only "bone" but "leg".  Clearly, his name should have been translated as Ivar the Legless since "boneless" is a silly name for a Viking warrior and  - given that he invaded the whole of Mercia in about a fortnight - he was anything but "spineless".  Surely, Ivar the Legless acquired his name by being a permanently drunken warlord whose frenzied attacks on our monasteries had less to do with defeating Christianity and more to do with plundering their cellars for limitless supples of local mead and special import Belgian beer!

At this point in the story our local hero enters centre stage: Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons and, later, first King of England.  As a young soldier in 868 he fought against Ivar the Legless in Mercia, but Alfred, partial to his afternoon naps and tea and cakes, was no match for Ivar rthe Legless and had to retreat to his native Wessex, leaving Ivar to seize the kingdom of Mercia.

In 871, Alfred ascended to the throne of Wessex, determined to protect both church and realm.  So that same year, sensing a walkover among the vicarage tea parties of Wessex, Ivar the Legless began the Viking advance on Alfred's domain.  Although nomally incapable of walking a straight line, Ivar found the Romans had centuries earlier created a most helpful road layout which made his invasion a piece of cake.  In 873, Ivar the Legless finally met his match - the demon drink.

However, by 875 the Vikings had seized Wareham and most of the surrounding areas of Dorset.  Alfred, fearing becoming toast, realised he had only one course of action.  He invited his enemies to afternoon tea and politely suggested that were they to leave Wessex he would personally fund one-way tickets for the entire Great Heathen Army to visit the teashops of the Yorkshire Dales.  And so they did - for several years - leaving Alfred time to build "burhs" (like Shaftesbury) as strongholds against them on their return.  By his death in 899 he had defeated the Vikings and united England.

Please note: Not all of the above is historically verifiable (it's just stuff I read on Vikipedia!).  However, in recognition of his achievemnents as Christian monarch and lawmaker, as peacemaker in church and state, as founder of monasteries (including Shaftesbury) as centres of education and care for the poor and sick, and as a theologian, Alfred the Great REALLY IS commemorated in the Church of England Calendar - his feast day being 26 October.  So why not celebrate Alfred's life and witness that day with a genuine Swedish "fika" (Swedish for "tea and cakes") - but keep your eye on the oven!

David Miell






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Pastoral Letter for October

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