Could this relief from the High Middle Ages be a portrait of the monastery’s legendary founder Offo?
Unlikely, though the idea is certainly appealing. Karl List, who led the excavations beneath the present church, would have loved to find evidence that the abbey really was founded by the mysterious Offo.
Offo is said to have been an Anglo-Saxon king who settled here in the early 7th century. A conventual seal from 1355 supposedly shows the legendary king presenting a church to Mary. And if the monastery’s chronicle is to be believed, "Offo rex Anglia", in other words, "Offo, King of England" established the monastery of Schuttern in 603 and named it after himself: Offonis cella or Offoniswilare. The author of the chronicle, which was written in the early 16th century, even mentions a "tumba offonis", that is, "Offo’s tomb", which is said to be covered with a grave slab.
So when the archaeological excavation was under way, it made sense to search the early medieval church interior for a tomb, or at least for images of Offo. But it’s no longer possible to establish whether Offo ever existed, or who he really was. Nor can we determine whether the chronicle passed on historical knowledge, or whether it was really just handing down legends.
The fact is that Offo is still venerated in Schuttern to this day. Centuries ago, food was dispensed to the poor in honour of Saint Offo, with to 5,000 people turning up for such events. And even now, all of Schuttern celebrates Offo’s Day annually on the 14th of January.
All depictions: © Historischer Verein Schuttern 603 e.V. / Gemeinde Friesenheim