Studies by Archaeologists from the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) and Wessex Archaeology, suggests that the Anchor Church Caves in Derbyshire, England, was the home of a deposed Anglo-Saxon King.
The caves were carved from the Keuper Sandstone outcrop, close to the present-day village of Ingleby, and had previously been thought to have been an 18th century folly.
In the latest study published in the Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, the research team suggest that the cave dates from the early medieval period during the 9th century AD.
Edmund Simons, a research fellow at the Royal Agricultural University said: “This makes it probably the oldest intact domestic interior in the UK – with doors, floor, roof, windows etc – and, what’s more, it may well have been lived in by a king who became a saint!”
“Using detailed measurements, a drone survey, and a study of architectural details, it was possible to reconstruct the original plan of three rooms and easterly facing oratory, or chapel, with three apses.” Added Simons.
The cave has comparable Saxon architecture, similar to those found in the Saxon crypt at nearby Repton, and has a legendary association with Saint Hardulph, as documented in a fragment from a 16th century book that states, “that time Saint Hardulph has a cell in a cliff a little from the Trent”.
Scholars’ identity Hardulph with King Eardwulf of Northumbria, who was deposed in AD 806 and spent the last years of his life exiled in Mercia. Hardulph died around AD 830, and was buried at Breedon on the Hill in Leicestershire, just five miles from the cave site.
Simmons added: “The architectural similarities with Saxon buildings, and the documented association with Hardulph/Eardwulf, make a convincing case that these caves were constructed, or enlarged, to house the exiled king.”
The researchers stated that it was not unusual for deposed or retired Saxon royalty to devout their life to religious worship, by living in a cave as a hermit, gaining sanctity and in some cases canonisation.
Simons said: “These cave dwellings have often been overlooked by historians but may be the only intact domestic building to have survived from the Saxon period. This project has so far identified more than 20 other sites in the West Midlands that could date from as early as the 5th century.”
More archaeological and scientific dating is now planned to confirm the architectural evidence.
Header Image Credit : Simon Annable – Shutterstock