Alfred and the cakes, Cnut and the waves, and Eadmer the flying monk: Anglo-Saxon history is full of anecdotes. On this blog I will regularly highlight some amusing and/or remarkable episodes from early medieval England, along with a self-made cartoon. This blog discusses how the Britons scared the Anglo-Saxons by shouting ‘Alleluia!’…
The settlement of the diverse Germanic tribes in what is now known as England did not happen overnight. It took the Angles, Saxons and Jutes more than 150 years to fully conquer the bits of land that are now known as England. In great part, this was due to British resistance, possibly led by the legendary King Arthur. But King Arthur was by no means the only ‘secret weapon’ for the Britons.
In his Greater Chronicle, the Anglo-Saxon monk Bede(672/3-735) makes mention of the following British victory over the combined forces of Saxons and Picts:
Having gathered some men they checked the campaign of the Saxons […] the enemy was forced to flee panic-stricken, not by the noise of the tuba but by the crying of Alleluia by the voice of the whole army raised to the stars. (Bede, Greater Chronicle, s.a. 4410, trans. McClure and Collins, 2008).
This is the story, told more elaborately in his Ecclesiastical History (book I, ch. 20), of a small British force who were greatly outnumbered by the armies of the Saxons and the Picts. Among the Britons there were three priests who proposed to the British army to loudly shout ‘Alleluia’. As the whole army shouted the word simultaneously (and the word resounded through the entire valley), the pagans became afraid the heavens might fall down on their heads and so they ran away.
Want to scare an Anglo-Saxon? Don’t shout ‘boo’ if ‘Alleluia’ will do!
Works referred to:
- Bede, The Greater Chronicle, trans. J. McClure and R. Collins. In Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, The Greater Chronicle, Bede’s Letter to Egbert (Oxford, 2008)
If you liked this post, you may also like An Anglo-Saxon Anecdote: The Real Night of the Long Knives and An Anglo-Saxon Anecdote: How Hengest was led by the nose.