Bede's Statement about the Saxon Name for Pasch (Easter)

A sixteenth-century artist's consception of what Bede may have looked like, from the Nuremburg Chronicles.In 725, a Christian writer in England wrote a very long book discussing historical timelines, etc., to explain why the calendars of his day worked the way they did, why feast days fell when they did, and so on. In the book De Temporum (About Times), Bede discusses the Saxon names of various months. Two of Saxon months are named after Saxon deities, the same way that our month of March is named after the Roman god of war. For example, Bede explains that:

At the time Bede wrote, no other writer anywhere had recorded anything about either goddess. In fact, for over a thousand years, some writers accused Bede of making them both up. In 1835, Jacob Grimm found that the Old High German tongue - which was related to the old Saxon language - had words that might be related to the names of both Saxon goddesses.

There was no record of either goddess in ancient Teutonic or Germanic literature. But Grimm hypothesized that if there ever were equivalents in the medieval Germanic culture, their names would be Ostara and Hruada. Several of Grimm's contemporaries were so encouraged by that suggestion that they went on to invent a mythology for Eostre/Ostara that was centuries older than Bede's reference.

Eostre gets a lot more attention than Rheda because Saxon Christians attached the name of her month to their celebrations of Holy Week, which almost all other Christians called Pasch or something similar. Some neo-Pagans use the fact that English-speakers call Pasch "Easter" to "prove" that Christians never celebrated Jesus' resurrection at all until they ran into Eostre-worship in Western Europe and started a spring festival to compete with the Pagan Easter feasts.

Here's an irony - only in the English-speaking world could such a theory have been advanced - because almost everybody else calls such celebrations "Pasch." So the folks who advance this "theory" are not only ignorant of history and dismissive of all other cultures, they are also ethnocentric to a fault, right up there with the folks who believe that the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel moved to England, or that Joseph of Arimethea brought the Holy Grail to England, or that the "New Jerusalem" will be built on the Thames. All such superstitions are very appealing if you happen to be English, but the rest of the world is, frankly, unimpressed.

On top of that, there's a huge time discrepancy. Neo-Pagan claims to the contrary, Christians in Europe, Asia, and North Africa were already celebrating Holy Week (including Jesus' resurrection) during the second century AD. (Unfortunately we know that because by 195AD, they had gotten their dates out of sync and were arguing over when to celebrate.)

The first sustained Christian contacts with the Saxons didn't occur until about 500AD, in what is now England. If you want to try to connect with Grimm's fabricated Ostara instead, you might be able to move the date at which sustained Christian contacts with Germanic peoples began back to about 400AD.

So what do you think are the chances that a holiday that Christians throughout the world have celebrated since the second century could have been invented in England in the sixth (or - best case - in Germany in the fifth)?

Bede's quote about Eosturmonath and how it was named is below. I confess that I first encountered these quotes on Wikipedia, but I have been able since to verify them independently.

Original Latin:

Modern English translation:

Note that by "old observance," Bede is presumably referring to ancient Teutonic spring celebrations, of which there is no other record in any ancient writing. By "new rite," he's referring to Christianity and possibly to Christian celebrations of the Resurrection. In Bede's day, both of these were "new" to the recently-converted Saxons. But both Christianity and Christian celebrations of the Resurrection actually reached the British Isles during the Roman occupation, centuries before the Saxons did.

For more information about Easter, Easter traditions, and related subjects:

To return to the Family Christmas OnlineTM Home Page, click here.