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Leaders of the Anglo-Saxon Church

Leaders of the Anglo-Saxon Church: From Bede to Stigand

Volume: 12
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 218
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  • Book Info
    Leaders of the Anglo-Saxon Church
    Book Description:

    Both episcopal and abbatial authority were of fundamental importance to the development of the Christian church in Anglo-Saxon England. Bishops and heads of monastic houses were invested with a variety of types of power and influence. Their actions, decisions, and writings could change not only their own institutions, but also the national church, while their interaction with the king and his court affected wider contemporary society. Theories of ecclesiastical leadership were expounded in contemporary texts and documents. But how far did image or ideal reflect reality? How much room was there for individuals to use their office to promote new ideas? The papers in this volume illustrate the important roles played by individual leading ecclesiastics in England, both within the church and in the wider political sphere, from the late seventh to the mid eleventh century. The undeniable authority of Bede and Bishop Æthelwold is demonstrated but also the influence of less-familiar figures such as Bishop Wulfsige of Sherborne, Archbishop Ecgberht of York and St Leoba. The book draws on both textual and material evidence to show the influence (by both deed and reputation) of powerful personalities not only on the developing institutions of the English church but also on the secular politics of their time. Contributors: Alexander R. Rumble, Nicholas J. Higham, Martyn J. Ryan, Cassandra Rhodes, Allan Scott McKinley, Dominik Wassenhoven, Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Debby Banham, Joyce Hill.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-833-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-ix)
    Alexander R. Rumble
  5. Contributors
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  7. Introduction Church Leadership and the Anglo-Saxons
    (pp. 1-24)

    FROM the time of the late sixth-century mission led by Augustine, who had been sent by the bishop of Rome to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, the church in England was intended to follow a territorial pattern, like that already established on the Continent and previously in Roman Britain, based on the diocese and administered by bishops.¹ Groups of such dioceses would be subject to a metropolitan and within each diocese there could be ecclesiastical centres (monasteria, ‘minsters’ mostly led by abbots or abbesses) of lesser status than the bishop’s cathedral and whose clergy would be under his higher...

  8. 1 Bede and the Early English Church
    (pp. 25-40)

    IN 731, Bede completed his Historia Ecclesiastica nostrae insulae ac gentis in libri ν – his ‘Ecclesiastical History of our island and people in five books’, a work which he entitled internally the Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (in the opening line of the Preface and in the headings of the contents lists which open each book).¹ The core of the title is, however, the same in each case, the Historia Ecclesiastica. Unsurprisingly, Bede made frequent use of the word ‘ecclesia’ meaning ‘church’ across this work; it occurs 378 times.² This term has several different significances, however, which we need to...

  9. 2 Archbishop Ecgberht and his Dialogus
    (pp. 41-60)

    SO Alcuin assessed the central years of the episcopate of Ecgberht of York (bishop c. 732–5, archbishop 735–66) in his Versus de patribus, regibus et sanctis Euboricensis ecclesiae.² For all Alcuin’s praise of him, Ecgberht remains a little-studied figure. He fits into an obscure and seemingly undistinguished interlude between the Venerable Bede and Alcuin himself and, indeed, Ecgberht is most often explored by scholars only as an adjunct to these two giants of the Anglo-Saxon church; rarely is he considered in his own right. Yet Ecgberht’s episcopate was one of the longest of the Anglo-Saxon period and one...

  10. 3 Abbatial Responsibility as Spiritual Labour: Suckling from the Male Breast
    (pp. 61-76)

    ANGLO-SAXON church leaders contributed widely to the scholarship, government, art and architecture of the Anglo-Saxon church. However, their immediate influence was most keenly felt within their own monastic communities, and impacted largely on the spiritual family of monks and/or nuns in their care. These church leaders were removed from the experiences and realities of lay domesticity and often from biological family ties. At least as they are represented in extant texts, they transferred this experience into the spiritual realm, nurturing the spiritual development and Christian integrity of the men and women in their community, as parents would their offspring. Whilst...

  11. 4 Understanding the Earliest Bishops of Worcester c. 660–860
    (pp. 77-96)

    WORCESTER is the best evidenced of all the early Anglo-Saxon bishoprics, with a substantial collection of material on which to construct narratives. Yet this has rarely been done, perhaps because of the difficulty of ascertaining which charters are reliable.¹ This is a pity, for Worcester is unparalleled in the opportunities it presents to scholars seeking to understand the development of a church and its relationship with its landscape. The way in which the bishops of Worcester built up the power of their church can be at least dimly discerned in this material, and the effort of determining how the bishops...

  12. 5 The Role of Bishops in Anglo-Saxon Succession Struggles, 955 × 978
    (pp. 97-108)

    WITH these words the anonymous author of the Vita Sancti Oswaldi, now believed to be Byrhtferth of Ramsey,² depicts the situation after the death of King Edgar in 975. The successions to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the second half of the tenth century were indeed quarrelsome. In this chapter, I will try to present the role of the bishops in these succession struggles. I focus on bishops because the organization of the church was probably more sophisticated than that of the lay magnates and the kingdom itself, and thus the bishops could possibly ensure continuity where the laity perhaps was...

  13. 6 Image-Making: Portraits of Anglo-Saxon Church Leaders
    (pp. 109-128)

    WHEN I imagine St Cuthbert, I draw on two unrelated pictures. The first is of the hermit saint described in Bede’s near-contemporary Historia Ecclesiastica and the Vitae of St Cuthbert. I thus see him as emaciated from a diet consisting, in his last days, entirely of raw onions; and in the boots which he wore day and night, only removing them for the Maundy footwashing ceremony at Easter, when the calluses from constant friction were revealed. I visualize him in simple undyed clothes, blending in with the wild seas and bleak landscape of my native Northumberland. The folk memory of...

  14. 7 ‘To Keep Silence Following the Rule’s Command’: Bishop Æthelwold, Reforming Ideology and Communication by Signs
    (pp. 129-146)

    THE precise importance of sign language in the Benedictine reform of the tenth century is difficult to assess. However, this aspect of the movement has received so little scholarly attention that it is surely safe to say that its role has been underestimated. The publication of Scott Bruce’s Silence and Sign Language in Medieval Monasticism is therefore to be welcomed for placing communication by signs firmly under the gaze of the wider, especially Anglophone, academic public.² It is to be hoped that his work will renew analytical interest in the texts among historians and linguists, while prompting a wider debate...

  15. 8 Wulfsige of Sherborne’s Reforming Text
    (pp. 147-164)

    WULFSIGE, bishop of Sherborne, sometimes identified as Wulfsige III because there were two other bishops of Sherborne by this name in the late ninth and early tenth centuries, hardly springs to mind when we think of the leaders of the Anglo-Saxon church. Yet Sherborne is the only see outside the three leading centres of Winchester, Worcester and Canterbury to have been changed from a clerical to a monastic foundation in the Benedictine reform period, despite the propensity during the ascendancy of the reform to appoint bishops from the community of monks. This momentous event, which appears to have been achieved...

  16. 9 From Winchester to Canterbury: Ælfheah and Stigand – Bishops, Archbishops and Victims
    (pp. 165-182)

    THE final chapter of this book on leaders of the Anglo-Saxon church reconsiders the lives and contrasting reputations of two late Anglo-Saxon bishops of Winchester, both of whom were subsequently promoted to be archbishops of Canterbury.¹ One (Ælfheah) was a monk who was later canonized as a martyr, the other (Stigand) was a secular priest who was vilified even before his death as a pluralist and a usurper. Each played an active part, as advisers to the current king, in important national events. Both of them eventually died as the result of invasions of England from the Continent. Both are...

  17. Index
    (pp. 183-204)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)