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The Saxon Deities

Stowe: Hawkwell Field



In the triangular area of northern Hawkwell Field formed by The Gothic Temple to the south, Lord Cobham's Monument to the north, and The Queen's Temple to the northwest, is a small dell encircled by seven stone plinths. Upon six of these plinths, as of 2005, stand the statues of the recently restored Saxon Deities Sunna, Mona, Tiw, Woden, Friga, and Seatern. The original statue of Thuner, seen at the bottom of this page, is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is hoped that a copy can be made to complete the collection at Stowe.

The Saxon Deities

Originally, all seven Deities stood in a round hedged enclosure or cabinet, open to the sky and having an altar in the middle, in the area now occupied by the buildings of Stowe School. This was called the Saxon or Sylvan Temple and, according to the Survey, was in existence by 1720, though the statues themselves may not have been in place until 1729, by which time the sculptor Rysbrack had produced both them and several of the busts that eventually found their way into the Temple of British Worthies. Bevington places the Deities in the Sylvan Temple by around 1727. In the mid 1740s the statues were removed to an area just to the east of the Gothic Temple, and in 1771 to their present location.

The Saxon Deity Sunna
Sunna
The Saxon Deity Mona
Mona
The Saxon Deity Tiw
Tiw

The Deities give their names to the days of the week: Sunna (Sunday), Mona (Monday), Tiw (Tuesday), Woden (Wednesday), Thuner (Thursday), Friga (Friday), and Seatern (Saturday). Sunna and Mona represent the sun and the moon; Seatern (Saetern) the anglicized name of the Italian harvest god. In Norse mythology, Woden or Odin is the sky god, patron of culture, and the inventor of runes. Friga is his wife, queen of the gods and the goddess of married love; she is thought to have become assimilated with Freya, another wife of Odin and goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. Thuner or Thor, a son of Odin, is the god of thunder, famed for his hammer -- the thunderbolt -- which always returned to him after being hurled as a weapon. Tiw, or Tyr, another son of Odin, is the Norse god of war.

The Saxon Deity Woden
Woden
The Saxon Deity Friga
Friga
The Saxon Deity Seatern
Seatern

Gilbert West celebrates the Saxon Deities in a passage of his poem on Stowe and emphasizes their significance as British (as opposed to classical) cultural icons. This emphasis on British cultural roots is present also in the neo-gothic architecutral style and the original name (Temple of Liberty) of the Gothic Temple.

The Saxon Deity Thuner in the collection of the V&A
Thuner


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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu