“Fiery Dragons” Supposedly Seen Over the Skies of Northumbria in 793

Peterborough Chronicle
The initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle, the text in which the reference to fiery dragons is made. (Image source: Public Domain)
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Despite modern associations between dragons and fire, these great beasts have not always been thought of as fire-breathing. Foul odours, poisonous venom and raw brute strength are instead often found in historical records, described as the methods by which a dragon may take human life. 1

Yet, that said, there is one archaic text which makes a connection between dragons and fire.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. It is in The Peterborough Chronicle that a remarkable story can be found, which relates the day that “fiery dragons” (fyrenne dracan) were supposedly seen over the skies of Northumbria in the UK.

The entry in the Chronicle dates to 793, and detailed how “immense whirlwinds and flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons” “manifest over Northumbria and greatly terrified the people”. At the time, these great spectacles were regarded as omens. And, indeed, as the Chronicle goes on to relate, soon after the “dragons” were witnessed a “great famine” followed. Not only that, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, was raided by Vikings. 2

“[…]  not long after that, in the same year, on 8 June, the ravages of heathen men wretchedly destroyed God’s Church on Lindisfarne, with plunder and carnage”

Lindisfarne Castle on Holy island, the site of the Viking attack in the year 793. (Image credit: Matthew Hunt / Wikimedia Commons)

In the centuries since the Chronicle was written, there has been much debate as to the true nature of the “dragons” described in the text. One suggestion is that the dragons, rather than being physical creatures, were instead natural phenomena, such as cloud formations, shooting stars or even the Northern Lights. 3

Yet, for those who believe that the Chronicle offers a more literal description, there are plenty of other stories of dragons around this time and area. Further south, just outside the village of Handale are woods said to have once been haunted by a great half dragon, half serpent, who would feast on local maidens. 4 The precise origins of the legend of the Handale Serpent are unknown, however, they help to demonstrate a long connection between dragons and the north of England. Another similar tale is that of the Lambton Worm, a monstrous creature said to have coiled itself around a hill not too far from where the “fiery dragons” were witnessed in 793. 5

Considering the rich history of dragon stories and reports in the north of England, what exactly were the “fiery dragons” seen in the sky that day in 793?

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About Laura 63 Articles
Falling more strongly on the side of scepticism, Laura's passion is for the details. She is fascinated by the culture implications and psychology of strange phenomena. Some of Laura's main interests are parapsychological experiments; the paranormal in history and folklore; and, haunted locations.