(Image above: www.finds.org.uk)

A brooch has been found near to Chrishall and it’s story raises some fascinating questions about the origins of the village.

I was reminded about this little silver brooch when the Archive attended the recent 12th Century Live event at Saffron Walden Museum.  This brooch was found near Chrishall around two years ago by a metal detectorist. It is now on display in the museum.

The brooch depicts a dove holding a cross and has been dated to the 8thCentury. This was a time when Christianity was still relatively new to the British Isles. According to a book I have on Anglo-Saxon England “The state of religion in any part of England depended on the activity of its bishop. Only a minority of the clergy ever rose to the priesthood, and the division of a diocese into parishes, each under the spiritual charge of its own priest, was still a remote ideal in the early eighth century.” (Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, Third Edition).

Before the first listed priest for Chrishall

Certainly the first ‘priest’ we have listed for Chrishall is not until the year 1100 when Eustace de Bologne was rewarded Chrishall as part of his lands after the Norman Conquest and it seems may have installed one of his relations, Richard de Bologne, to be in charge of the church.

The church back then would have looked very different from today. “If you had attended a service at St Mary’s Church (as it then was) you would have found yourself in a large open space, but much smaller than the church of today, with no seats, except perhaps a bench along one of the walls (the weak would go to the wall to sit down). The service would have been entirely in Latin…” This is an extract from a detailed history of the church available near the south door of the church for a small donation. You can also still see a very small part of the old church. Next time you visit, look behind the pulpit and you will see what appears to be a small rounded shelf but is actually the top of a column from the original church.

But this was in the 12th century. Back in the 8th century who was around Chrishall that could have dropped a brooch that was probably very valuable at the time?

On the borders

Always ‘on the borders’ Chrishall is now, of course, very close to the borders of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Back in Anglo-Saxon times was no different as we were close to the border of the old division of Mercia and not that far from Wessex. We had the East Angles coming down from the coast meeting the East Saxons to the south of our area. Not only that the defensive works of the Bran Ditch (Heydon) and Fleam Dyke (Fulbourn) are nearby. We know there is an Anglo-Saxon earthwork (“castle”) in Park Wood and the website finds.org.uk has plenty of early medieval finds around Chrishall. Archiuk.com, the archaeology online database also has lots of medieval activity around Chrishall area.

But the most fascinating thing to me about the finding of the brooch was the link with Chrishall’s old name. The village was listed in the Domesday Book as Cristeshalla, or “nook of land dedicated to Christ”.

(Image above: Professor John Palmer, George Slater and opendomesday.org).

The research of the English Place Names Society lists the early names for Chrishall as Cristeshala, Cristeshalam, Cristeshale, Cristehall, Cristeshall.  So that link with Christianity has always been there. Where the ‘nook’ or ‘hall’ came from we may well never know, but this little brooch confirms that this hill in the north of Essex was important for some reason and maybe even a meeting place for early Christians.