Thame Local History
The Death of Archbishop Oskytel

There is an entry in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles for the year 970 AD, which says :

This year died Archbishop Oskytel; who was first consecrated diocesan bishop at Dorchester, and afterwards it was by the consent of King Eadred and all his council that he was consecrated Archbishop of York. He was bishop two and twenty winters; and he died on Alhallow-mas night, ten nights before Martinmas, at Thame. Abbot Thurkytel, his relative, carried the bishop's body to Bedford, because he was the abbot there at that time.

Oskytel and Thurkytel were Danes, or rather Englishmen from that part of England known as the Danelaw.

Following the victory of King Alfred the Great over the Danish King Guthrum and the patchy conversion of the early Danish settlers in England to the Christian creed, there were a number of Kings of Wessex who also ruled over Mercia and Northumbria, encompassing the Danelaw, and in effect ruled over the larger part of England in the name of Christ.

The diocese of Dorchester, stretching from the Humber to the Thames, was very largely within the Danelaw and King Eadred (946-955) although himself grandson of King Alfred of Wessex appointed a prominent Christian from the Danelaw to the position of Bishop of Dorchester.

Oskytel's importance as a Christian leader of the English of the Danelaw is further reflected in his appointment by King Eadred as Archbishop of York.

When King Eadred died in 955, Bishop Oskytel was entrusted with the task of distributing throughout the realm a large number of gold coins in memory of the dead King and in praise of God.

Abbot Thurkytel was a relative of Bishop Oskytel, possibly his brother. Thurkytel, as well as being the Abbot of Bedford, was also the owner of land in Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. He went on to establish an abbey at Crowland in Lincolnshire.

It would seem therefore that Oskytel and Thurkytel came from a family of wealthy and influential Christians, at a time when Christianity's hold on their native Danelaw was in its relative infancy.

In the late Autumn of 970, both Archbishop Oskytel and his kinsman Abbot Thurkytel were abiding at Thame. It may be speculated that they were perhaps in the midst of a journey from Dorchester to Bedford. Such a journey in winter would have been unusual, but there may have been a pressing need to return to the family's heartlands, such as the failing health of the Archbishop.

Archbishop Oskytel died at Thame and his body was taken on to Bedford by Abbot Thurkytel.

It has often been commented that Thame in 970 must have had a residence worthy of accommodating the Bishop of Dorchester and Archbishop of York, as well as his kinsman the Abbot of Bedford.

The fact that Thurkytel was an Abbot, and the slightly ambiguous wording of the Chronicle entry in some translations, has led some to suggest that there was an abbey at Thame in 970. This had led to further speculation of a tenth century abbey at Thame Park.

The evidence would seem to suggest however that the important guests were put up in a residence close to the heart of Thame, on or near the site of St Mary's Church.

Thame as 7th Century Minster

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