King-Saint Cave Dwelling Oldest in Britain
Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Is this ancient cave the original residence of an Anglo-Saxon king-turned-priest? And can it really be the oldest surviving home in Britain?
Cut from sandstone, the Anchor Church caves in S. Debyshire, England were recently dated to the early 9th century.
Consisting of an oratory (chapel) and three rooms most likely used as a bedroom, dining room, and meeting room, archaeologists now believe that it once was the home of King Eardwulf, who ruled Northumbria from 796 to 806 AD. When he was deposed after a series of assassination attempts (one led by King Aethelred) and wars, he fled to Mercia, where he changed his name to Hardulph and dedicated himself to God. He most likely lived out the rest of his life in the cave, where he entertained visitors and taught Christianity. After his death around 830 AD, Hardulph was accorded a sainthood.
The date of the caves also matches with what is known about the Viking raiders from the time. The Vikings are known to have set up camp nearby soon after Hardulph’s death, from where they killed all the local priests and conquered Mercia. The cave may have also served as a home to the Vikings, a theory supported by the Viking-era artifacts, such as game pieces, found right outside the cave by metal detectorists, in recent years.
Later, in the 18th century, a local landowner and aristocrat Robert Burdett added brickwork and window frames to the cave, so he could entertain dinner guests in the cave’s “cool and romantic cells”.
He also widened the entrance so he could bring in tables and other pieces of large furniture, as well as accommodate women wearing wide skirts. Until recently, the cave was just believed to be an 18th-century folly. (The photo to the left shows what the cave looked like in 1895, when it still had its door and window frames.)
Based on the age of the cave dwelling, it is now considered to be the oldest surviving dwelling in Britain.