Monday, 25 February 2013

Was the Swineherd of Stow a Druid?

Upon the north-west spire of Lincoln Cathedral stands a stone character, blowing into a horn. He is known as the Swineherd of Stow, and there's a tale about how he offered his life-long savings, a hornful of silver coins, to help build the cathedral. This tale was made into a poem by Thomas Cooper in 1846, and is reproduced at the bottom of this post.

Beyond this sketchy legend, nothing is known about the swineherd. Yet Stow itself is somewhat better known. It's a village to the northwest of Lincoln, with a minster that is more like a cathedral than a village church. The earliest part of the minster dates back to Saxon times, but the site is likely to have been hallowed ground for much longer than that. "Stow" is of Old English etymology, meaning "sacred meeting place", and is likely to have been held sacred in pre-Christian times. There are two underwater rivers that cross underneath the church. Also, there was an annual fair held there, (not to be confused with the Midsummer fair in the south of county at Stowe Green Hill) a likely relic from pre-Christian times. Clearly, Stow was an important sacred site in pre-Christian times, when the druids walked the land.

stow - Old English - (holy) place (of assembly) eg Stow-on-the-Wold, Padstow, Bristol, Stowmarket
(from )

The word stow invariably means a 'holy place' and is found throughout England.
(from )

But what is the connection between a swineherd and the druids? Well, druids were commonly referred to as "swineherds" in myth (ref ), in much the same way that Christian religious leaders are known as shepherds. The horn that the swineherd blows could perhaps even be a carnyx, a cross between a bugle and a didgeridoo, that often carried the bronze head of boar as an amplification bell, and was used in both war and ceremony.

And what of the swineherd's offering, his hornful of silver coins to help in the cathedral's construction? At the time the cathedral was being built, Stow minster was still the most important place of worship in the area, and is often called the "mother church" to the cathedral. Silver is in Indo-European tradition symbolic of otherworldliness, the moon and the old ways. The Druid of Stow offering this powerful symbol would demonstrate the blessing of the pagan gods in the inauguration of the cathedral. The Lincolnshire folk at this time would still have depended on the old gods of fertility to survive a rural, farming existence, and their religion would likely have been a blend of ancient and Christian lore, in much the same way that Christianity merged with the local panoplies of gods in Central and South America.

A lot of ifs and a lot of maybes, but there's a thread that runs right through the supposition that the Swineherd of Stow was a druid, offering a symbolic blessing and a bridge from the old centre of worship to the new one.

The Swineherd of Stow

I sing of a swineherd in Lindsey so bold
Who tendeth his flock in the wide forest fold
He sheareth no wool from his snouted sheep
He soweth no corn and none he doth reap
Yet the swineherd no lack of good living doth know
Come jollily trowl
The brown round bowl
Like the jovial swineherd of Stow

He hedgeth no meadows to fatten his swine
He renteth no joist for his snorting kine
They rove through the forest and browse on the mast
Yet he lifteth his horn and bloweth a blast
And they come at his call blow he high blow he low
Come jollily trowl
The brown round bowl
And drink to the swineherd of Stow

He shunneth the heat mong the fern stalks green
Or dreameth of elves neath the forest treen

He wrappeth him up when the oak leaves sere
And the ripe acorns fall at the wane o the year
And he tippleth at Yule by the log's cheery glow
Come jollily trowl
The brown round bowl
And pledge the bold swineherd of Stow

The bishop he passeth the swineherd in scorn
Yet to mass wends the swineherd at Candlemas morn
And he offereth his horn at our Lady's hymn
With bright silver pennies filled up to the brim
Saith the bishop A very good fellow I trow
Come jollily trowl
The brown round bowl
And honour the swineherd of Stow

And now the brave swineherd in stone ye may spy
Holding his horn on the Minster so high
But the swineherd he laugheth and cracketh his joke
With his pig boys that vittle beneath the old oak
Saying Had I no pennies they d make me no show
Come jollily trowl
The brown round bowl
And laugh with the swineherd of Stow

So merrily the chorus rose
For every guest chimed in
That had the dead been there to doze
They had surely waked with the din
So the rustics said while their brains were mellow
And all called the swineherd a jolly good fellow

Come hearty Snell said the Baron good
What sayest thou more of the merry greenwood

I remember no lay of the forest now
Said Snell with a glance at three maids in a row
Belike I could whimper a love lorn ditty
If Tib Doll and Bell would listen with pity

Then chaunt us thy love song cried Baron and guests
And Snell looking shrewd obeyed their behests

by Thomas Cooper (Chartist) 1846

Drawing by David Vale

No comments:

Post a Comment