Bosworth Toller's


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  • noun [ feminine ]
Dictionary links
byrgen, byrgenn, birgen, byrigen, burgen, e; f. [beorg tumulus]
Wright's OE grammar
A burying, grave, sepulchre, tomb; sepulcrum, monumentum, tumba
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  • Byrgen


      Ps. Th. 48, 9: Ps. Surt. 13, 3.
  • Hát nú healdan ða byrgene

    jube ergo custodire sepulcrum,

      Mt. Bos. 27, 64: 27, 66.
  • On ðam wyrt-túne wæs niwe byrgen

    in horto erat novum monumentum,

      Jn. Bos. 19, 41: 19, 42.
  • Com to ðære byrgene

    venit ad monumentum,

      Jn. Bos. 20, 1: 20, 3, 4, 6, 8, 11.
  • Ðý þriddan dæge of byrgenne, of deáðe, arás Dryhten

    on the third day the Lord arose from the sepulchre, from death,

      Elen. Kmbl. 371; El. 186: 965; El. 484: Exon. 18b; Th. 45, 34; Cri. 729: Ps. Th. 29, 8.
  • Byrgenum


      13, 5: Salm. Kmbl. 445; Sal. 223.
  • On his byrgenne is awriten byrgen-leóþ

    scriptum est in tumba ipsius epitaphium,

      Bd. 2, 1; S. 500, 17.
in the districts of England first occupied by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, numerous extensive cemeteries of the heathen period have been examined. In these cemeteries the graves are usually arranged in rows, and are dug exactly in the same manner and form as our modern church-yard graves, which are probably copied from them. After the. burial, a low circular mound was raised over the grave. From their contents we learn that the body of the deceased was buried in the full dress worn when living, — the men with their arms and military equipments, — the women with their personal ornaments and jewelry. The body was generally laid on its back, on the floor of the grave; but in the wealthier classes, it was frequently inclosed in a wooden coffin, for in A. D. 679, it is said — Æðeldryþ on treówene þruh wæs bebyriged Ætheldrith was buried in a wooden coffin,
    Bd. 4, 19; S. 588, 2l;
or in the Latin of Bede — Ædilthryd ligneo in locello sepulta, S. 163, 15.
the belief in a future life is shewn by the care with which the relatives and friends of better condition, placed in the grave of the dead objects which it was supposed would be necessary or useful in the next world: even mere personal ornaments, or articles to which the deceased had been attached, or which can only have been placed there as tokens of affectionate remembrance. Evidence is also found of the sentiments of tenderness which followed them to their last resting-place. It was believed that the dead were exposed to evil spirits, for amulets are usually found interred with them, — especially beads of amber, which were thought to be protective against such influences. The frequent occurrence, among the earth in the grave, of bones of animals, which were commonly eaten by the Anglo-Saxons, would seem to shew that there were both sacrifices and feasting at the burial. Human bones have been found in such a position as to justify a supposition, that a slave had been slain and thrown into the grave, perhaps in the belief that he would continue to serve his master in the spiritual world.
in the districts which were occupied by the Angles in Britain, and Old Saxons on the continent, νεκροκαυστία, cremation or the burning of the bodies before burial, appears to have been almost universal, among rude nations, from the age of Homer to that of Alfred. The interment, therefore, consists of an urn filled with the burnt bones. It has been supposed that cremation was originally the mode of burial in use among the Angles; and that the Saxons and Jutes buried the body entire, or that they had adopted this mode of burial when they came into Britain. See Kemble in the
Archæolgical Journal, No. 48. It is recorded of the Esthonians and Old Saxons, who were a very warlike and powerful people, once occupying the whole north-west corner of Germany, — And ðæt is mid Éstum þeáw, ðæt ðǽr sceal ǽlces geþeódes man beón forbærned; and gyf ðár man án bán findeþ unforbærned, hí hit sceolon miclum gebétan it is also a custom with the Esthonians, that there men of every tribe must be burned; and if any one find a single bone unburnt, they shall make a great atonement, Ors. 1. 1; Bos. 23, 3-5. It is certain that in Beowulf, which is supposed to be an Old Norse poem, the body of the hero is described as being burnt
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  • Hit sǽ-líðend syððan hátan Biówulfes biorh

    sea-farers may afterwards call it Beowulf's mound [barrow ],

      Beo. Th. 5604-5606; B. 2806, 2807.
  • Him ðá gegiredon Geáta leóde ád unwáclícne, helm-behongen, hilde bordum, and beorhtum byrnum

    the people of the Goths then raised for him a mighty funeral pile, hung with helmets, shields, and bright breast-plates,

      6265-6271; B. 3137-3140.
  • Ongunnon ðá bǽl-fýra mǽst wígend weccan: wudu-réc astáh sweart of Swió-þole

    then the warriors began to kindle the greatest of bale-fires: the wood-smoke ascended black from the Swedish pine,

      6277-6281; B. 3143-3145.
  • Hí on beorg dydon beágas and siglu, eall swylce hyrsta

    on the mound they placed rings and jewels, also ornaments,

      6307-6309; B. 3164, 3165.
  • Ðá ymbe hlǽw ridon æðelingas . . . cyning mǽnan, word-gyd wrecan

    then nobles rode round the mound. . . their king bewail, a verbal lay recite,

      6319-6325; B. 3170-3173.
  • Swá begnornodon Geáta leóde

    thus the people of the Goths deplored,

      6338, 6339; B. 3179.
it is probable that down to a very late period the people adhered to many of their ancient burial customs. Charlemagne, so late as the year 789, ordered his Christian Saxon subjects to bury their dead in the Christian cemeteries, and not in the tumuli of the pagans, in these words, — Jubemus ut corpora Christianorum Saxonum ad cœmeteria ecclesiæ deferantur, et non ad tumulos paganorum,
Capit. Carl. Mag. Walter, tom. ii. p. 107. In England, the ordinary converts appear to have been drawn reluctantly from the burial places of their forefathers by the establishment of Christian cemeteries attached to the churches, and even there they seem long to have continued many of their old rites. A few of these ceremonies are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical laws and constitutions relating to funerals.
it appears from a regulation, which, though only preserved in the laws of Henry I, evidently belonged to the Anglo-Saxon period, that as soon as any person was dead, the body was laid out, with the feet to the east and the head to the west. This law enjoins any one who, either in revenging a feud or defending himself, should kill a man, not to take anything belonging to him, whether his horse, or his helmet, or his sword, or any money he may have, but to lay out his body in the manner usually observed with the dead, the head to the west and the feet to the east, upon his shield, if he have one; and to fix his lance, and place his arms round, and attach his horse by the reins; and to go to the nearest town and give information to the first person he meets; the Latin of the law is, — 'Si quis in vindictam vel in se defendendo occidat aliquem, nihil sibi de mortui rebus aliquis usurpet, non equum, non galeam, vel gladium, vel pecuniam prorsus aliquam; sed ipsum corpus solito defunctorum more componat, caput ad occidens, pedes ad oriens versum, super clipeum, si habeat; et lanceam suam figat, et arma circummittat, et equum adregniet; et adeat proximam villam, et cui prius obviaverit denunciet,' L. H. 83, § 6; Th. i. 591.
during the time that the dead body remained unburied, the relations and friends assembled to watch or wake over it [this watching or waking is mentioned under the word líc a body, see líc II.] , and this proceeding was evidently accompanied with feasting and drinking carried to a very great excess. So late as the end of the tenth century, archbishop Ælfric addressed the following injunction to his clergy
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  • Ge ne scylan fægnigan forþ-farenra manna, ne ðæt líc gesécan, búton eów mann laðige ðǽr-to: ðænne ge ðǽr-to gelaðode sýn, ðonne forbeóde ge ða hǽðenan sangas ðæra lǽwedra manna, and heora hlúdan cheahchetunga; ne ge sylfe ne eton, ne ne drincon ðǽr ðæt líc inne líþ, ðe-læs ðe ge syndon efen-lǽce ðæs hǽðenscypes ðe hý ðǽr begáþ

    ye shall not rejoice on account of men deceased, nor attend on the corpse, unless ye be thereto invited: when ye are thereto invited, then forbid ye the heathen songs of the laymen, and their loud cachinations; nor eat ye, nor drink, where the corpse lieth therein, lest ye be imitators of the heathenism which they there commit,

      L. Ælf. C. 35; Th. ii. 356, 23-358, 5.
  • The clergy gave little attention to these injunctions, for they are warned against being 'hunters of funerals,' and Ælfric tells us how some priests 'Fægniaþ ðonne men forþfaraþ, and unbedene gaderiaþ hí to ðam líce, swá swá grǽdige ræmmas, ðár ðár hí hold geseóþ; ac heom gebíraþ mid rihte to bestandenne ða men, ðe híraþ into heora mynstre; and ne sceal nán faran on óðres folgoþ to nánum líce búton he gebeden sý

    rejoice when men depart hence, and unbidden gather about the corpse, like greedy ravens, wherever they see a dead carcase; whereas it properly becomes them to bury those men, who belong to their minster; and no one ought to go in another's following to any corpse unless he be invited,'

      L. Ælf. P. 49; Th. ii. 386, 2-6.
we have no reason for supposing that people who were not rich were buried in coffins, but the body, having been wrapped up in its winding-sheet, appears to have been merely laid in the grave, and then covered with earth. The first coffins used by the converted Anglo-Saxons were undoubtedly of wood [vide
], and it was the ecclesiastics who introduced the stone sarcophagi for eminent personages of their own order. Sebbi, king of the East-Saxons, was buried in a coffin of stone
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  • Gearwodan hí his líchoman to bebyrigeanne on stǽnenre þruh

    cujus [Sebbi] corpori tumulando præparaverant sarcofagum lapideum,

      Bd. 4, 11; S. 580, 4.
at every funeral a payment, called a soul-sceat [v. sáwel-sceát], was made to the church where the interment took place, and a legacy was also expected. A mancus of gold, or even a much higher sum, was usually paid in the case of a king or bishop, or of a person of high rank.
the graves were no doubt arranged in rows and covered with small mounds, as in the older pagan cemeteries, except that the mounds were elongated instead of being circular, and had head-stones. They seem, at an early period, to have been laid north and south, like many of those in the pagan cemeteries, and not east and west, as was the position of the bodies of the nuns of Hartlepool, buried towards the end of the seventh century, which were uncovered about thirty years ago. Small flat stones, the largest less than a foot square, had been laid over the graves at Hartlepool, each bearing a cross, and the name of the person it commemorated; some engraved in Anglo-Saxon runes, and some in the Roman letters of the seventh century, for to the latter end of that period they evidently belonged. v. Thrupp's Anglo-Saxon Home, 8vo. 1860, pp. 397-405. A very valuable paper by George Rolleston, Esq. M.D. F.R.S. On the modes of sepulture in early Anglo-Saxon times in this country, reprinted from the Translations of the International Congress of Prehistoric Archæeology, Third Session: Douglas's Nenia Britannica: Faussett's Inventorium Sepulchrale: Akerman's Remains of Pagan Saxondom: Wylie's Fairford Graves: Braybrooke's Saxon Obsequies: and Mr. C. Roach Smith's Collectanea Antíqua.
Linked entries
v.  birgen burgen byrgels byrigen.
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  • byrgen, n.