Wessex On Screen: May Morning

May Morning, also known as Alba Pagana and Murder At Oxford, is a 1970 Italian giallo film set in Oxford University. Giallo is an Italian genre of crime fiction, often with strong erotic elements, taking its name from the yellow covers of the cheap paperback books where the genre originated.

Italian student Valerio Montelli (Allesio Orano) disrupts the rigid social structures at Oxford, being all foreign and that, especially when he falls for Flora (Jane Birkin), daughter of one of his professors. Things come to a head at the titular May Morning revels, leading to tragic consequences.

May Morning has attracted controversy due to the brutality of its climax, but it provides an interesting outsider's view of decadent Oxford society at the time of the post-Woodstock comedown from the swinging sixties. Despite being filmed entirely on location at Oxford, I can find no evidence that it was ever released in Britain. However, it is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Wessex on Screen: Press for Time

Press For Time is a 1966 comedy film starring Norman Wisdom, in which he plays a newspaper reporter who causes chaos in the Devon town of Teignmouth (lightly fictionalised as Tinmouth), as well as the main character's mother and grandfather. it was Wisdom's last film for the Rank Organisation.

The film was based on Angus McGill's humorous novel Yea Yea Yea, loosely inspired by his time as a reporter on the Shields Gazette. The cast also features Peter Jones, Stanley Unwin, David Lodge, Frances White and, in a small uncredited role, the film debut of Helen Mirren.

Press For Time (102 minutes, certificate U) is available to stream on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

Wessex Attractions: Ebbor Gorge

Ebbor Gorge is a 157-acre carboniferous limestone gorge in Somerset owned by the National Trust, managed by English Nature and close to Wookey Hole. The gorge is part of the Clifton Down limestone formation, a unit of the Pembroke limestone group. There is evidence of human habitation dating back to paleolithic times, along with animal remains of lemmings, steppe pika, reindeer and red deer. The latter exist in small numbers in the gorge to this day.

Ebbor gorge was declared a site of special scientific interest in 1952 and a national nature reserve in 1968. As well as the aforementioned red deer, it is home to horseshoe bats (greater and lesser), and several threatened species of butterfly. The humid environment makes it an ideal habitat for fungi and ferns, while bluebells and wood anemones are also abundant.

The postcode, for satnav purposes is BA5 1AY, and there is a free car park, open from dawn till dusk. First Bus 126 from Weston-super-Mare to Wells passes through Easton, about a mile and a half from Ebbor Gorge.

Wessex Worthies: Saint Boniface

Born near Crediton in Devon and originally named Wynfrith, Saint Boniface (675-754) was the first Archbishop of Mainz, and is known as "the apostle to the Germans". Christopher Dawson, in his 1946 book The Making of Europe, has said that Boniface "had a deeper influence on the history of Europe than any Englishman who has ever lived". A bold claim, but does it hold up?

The young Wynfrith was noted for his academic prowess. Originally sent as a boy to the monastery at Exeter for his education, he eventually entered the monastery at Nursling in Hampshire, where he became director of the school at an early age, compiling the first known Latin grammar in England. King Ine and his witan (advisors) selected him to become part of a delegation to the Archbishop of Canterbury, where he honed his skills as a diplomat. This led to him being dispatched as a missionary to the Frisians, where he met with fierce resistance from their pagan king, Radbod. The mission ending in failure, Wynfrith became convinced that he needed a direct commission from the pope, Gregory II. This was granted in 719, along with his new name, Boniface, named in honour of an earlier martyr.

Boniface returned to Frisia following the death of Radbod, and found more success in winning converts to the new faith, assisting the now elderly Saint Willibrord of Utrecht. Willibrord wanted Boniface to take over from him after his retirement, but Boniface chose instead to lead a mission to the still unconverted German lands, under an order of protection from Charles Martel, who saw an opportunity to establish Frankish rule.

It was in Hesse that he performed his most famous deed, cutting down an oak tree that had been struck by lightning, and was thus sacred to Donar (Thunor/Thor). The locals seeing that he was not punished by the gods for this impious deed, converted to Christianity. The story was later embellished to have the oak felled by a divine blast of lightning, and split into four pieces of equal size, arranged in the shape of a cross. A later legend credits this as the origin of the Christmas tree, though in reality, Christmas trees are much too recent in origin for this to be the case.

But Boniface's most enduring legacy was the reform of the German churches, establishing the Rule of St Benedict and leaving behind a system of administration, and an alliance between the Carolingian dynasty and the papacy, that was to form the basis of the so-called "Holy Roman Empire". He and his missionaries were active in bringing Roman learning and Roman civilisation to the Germanic world, making the claim made by Dawson in the opening paragraph more than just empty hype.

In 754, at the age of 79, Boniface undertook one last mission to Frisia. At a mass baptism event, he was ambushed by armed robbers. His companions tried to defend themselves, but he urged them to lay down their arms and trust in God. This went exactly as you might expect. His body was initially transferred to Mainz, before being translated to the Benedictine abbey (later cathedral) in the Hessian city of Fulda, where his remains are kept to this day. They are a major pilgrimage site, even attracting a papal visit in 1980. There is also a shrine at the Catholic church in Crediton, Boniface's feast day is observed on June 5th in the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches.

St Ealdhelm’s Day visit 2022

This year's St Ealdhelm's Day visit is to Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire, a recreation of an Anglo-Saxon working farm. The event will take place this coming Saturday, 21st May 2022. We will meet at the farm at 11.30 am, and there will be a re-enactment of a battle between Saxons and Britons at 2.00 pm. Food is not available on site, so bring a packed lunch.

If you wish to attend, book your ticket(s) via their website, and then look for the people wearing Wessex flag T-shirts. Because time slots are hourly, you will need to book for the 11.00 slot, the staff are aware that we won't be there until 11.30. We hope to see you there.