John Michael Rysbrack
Stowe's Sylvan Temple
Dedicated to the Saxon Gods

Hawkwell Field, Buckinghamshire, England


The Saxon Gods depicted here are based on Richard Verstegan's
Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities (1605)

Hawkwell Field, Buckinghamshire, England






Victoria and Albert Museum, London


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.  [Source: John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College]

In 1732, Gilbert West, writing anonymously, composed the poem Stowe, the Gardens of the Right Honourable Richard Lord Viscount Cobham. Address'd to Mr. Pope. The excerpt concerning the Saxon gods reads:


Forsaking now the Covert of the Maze,
Along the broader Walk's more open Space,
Pass we to where a sylvan Temple spreads
Around the Saxon Gods, its hallow'd Shades.

Hail! Gods of our renown'd Fore-Fathers, hail!
Ador'd Protectors once of England's Weal.
Gods, of a Nation, valiant, wise, and free,
Who conquer'd to establish Liberty!
To whose auspicious Care Britannia owes
Those Laws, on which she stands, by which she rose.
Still may your Sons that noble Plan pursue,
Of equal Government prescrib'd by you.
Nor e'er indignant may you blush to see,
The Shame of your corrupted Progeny!

First radiant Sunna shews his beamy Head,
Mona to Him, and scepter'd Tiw succeed;
Tiw, ancient Monarch of remotest Fame,
Who led from Babel's Tow'rs the German Name.
And warlike Woden, fam'd for martial Deeds,
From whom great Brunswick's noble Line proceeds.
Dread Thuner see! on his Imperial Seat,
With awful Majesty, and kingly State
Reclin'd! at his Command black Thunders roll,
And Storms and fiery Tempests shake the Pole.
With various Emblem next fair Friga charms,
In female Coats array'd and manly Arms.
Expressive Image of that Double Soul,
Prolifick Spirit that informs the Whole;
Whose Genial Power throughout exerts its Sway,
And Earth, and Sea, and Air, its Laws obey.
Last of the Circle hoary Seatern stands;
Instructive Emblems fill his mystick Hands.
In this, a Wheel's revolving Orb declares
The never-ending Round of rolling Years,
That holds a Vessel fill'd with fading Flowers
And Fruits collected by the ripening Hours.
Be warn'd from hence, ye Fair Ones! to improve
The transitory Minutes made for Love,
E'er yet th' inexorable Hand of Time
Robs of its bloomy Sweets your lovely Prime.


Additional Images