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Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England

Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England

Michael D. J. Bintley
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England
    Book Description:

    Trees were of considerable importance in Anglo-Saxon religion, both Christian and pre-Christian. This book considers various ways in which trees featured in both, and how they helped to mediate the transition between the two. It argues that trees retained certain symbolic characteristics in Anglo-Saxon belief because of their importance to both heathens and Christians, notably the life-sustaining abundance of the earth. Archaeological, historical and textual evidence is used to present a comprehensive picture. Michael D.J. Bintley is Senior Lecturer in Medieval English Literature at Christ Church University, Canterbury.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-434-5
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Approaches to Christian and pre-Christian belief in early medieval England have long been restricted by those who have polarised these positions, whether they have sought to uncover Germanic heathenism where there is none to be found, or claimed that the Roman inheritance of the Anglo-Saxons makes it impossible to say much about their pre-Christian religious traditions. Neither of these caricatured positions is likely to offer a representative picture of Anglo-Saxon beliefs and how they changed over the course of the period, because the conversion of the English was not a matter of confrontation between opposing camps. Studies in recent years...

  6. 1 Holy Trees and Inculturation in the Conversion Period
    (pp. 25-68)

    This chapter focuses on the period of most overt transition between heathenism and Christianity in early England, although the sense of binary opposition presented by these terms can be misleading and unhelpful in understanding what actually took place. In his classic overview of this process,The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England, Henry Mayr-Hating pointed out that conversion in England was not rapid. Whilst it took almost ninety years to convert the Anglo-Saxon kings and much of the nobility, missionary efforts in the countryside required not decades, but centuries.¹ Rather than attempting to introduce the new faith by force, representatives...

  7. 2 Anglo-Saxon Holy Trees and their Northern European Counterparts
    (pp. 69-90)

    The Introduction discussed the role of trees in Anglo-Saxon pre-Christian belief, and those customs associated with holy trees that were later forbidden by the Church. In Chapter 1 I presented three cases from the conversion era in which missionaries pursuing an inculturative method of Christianisation directly engaged with pre-Christian beliefs about trees and their derivatives. It is at these points of incidence between Roman Christianity and insular heathenism, which allowed the conversion to take place on an inculturative basis, where the characteristics of trees in pre-Christian belief are most likely to be found. This chapter will begin by identifying these...

  8. 3 Rewriting the Holy Rood in Anglo-Saxon Spiritual History
    (pp. 91-128)

    The first half of this book has argued that Christian missionaries made use of the symbolic role of trees in the Anglo-Saxon pre-Christian tradition, effecting an inculturative process of conversion in which trees served as one of many conventional bridges between the two belief systems. This chapter is about how trees became a normalised part of early English Christianity, and how the Anglo-Saxons recast the role of trees in their pre-Christian history, bringing them in line with the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It begins by examining episodes in Bede’sHistoria Ecclesiastica(a number of which are connected with St Oswald) in which...

  9. 4 The Human Forest: People and Trees in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia
    (pp. 129-152)

    The discussion so far has focused on the tree as a sacred symbol and an object of veneration in the Christian and pre-Christian beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons. In this chapter I consider the more personal relationship between the bodies of humans and trees that can be found in Old English and Old Norse literature. The methodology of this chapter is more obviously rooted in the comparative method, making use of prominent motifs in Old Norse literature to illuminate the remains of similar tropes in Old English. There are numerous instances in Eddic and skaldic poetry where people are explicitly referred...

  10. Summary
    (pp. 153-160)

    This book has shown that the role of trees in Anglo-Saxon religious belief was of much greater significance than has previously been understood. Trees were not simply a backdrop to the worship of gods with more easily identifiable names and identities. The symbolism of trees was transferrable to such an extent that their various appearances in Anglo-Saxon religious culture make them a useful means of understanding how changes in religious belief took place over significant periods of time. This kind of approach to aspects of the Anglo-Saxon landscape has potential applications outside England and the early medieval period, and may...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-188)
  12. Index
    (pp. 189-194)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-197)