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Constructing Spiritual Landscapes: Aspects of Centrality and Peripherality in Anglo- Saxon England and Early Medieval Ireland

Douglass, Brian (2010) Constructing Spiritual Landscapes: Aspects of Centrality and Peripherality in Anglo- Saxon England and Early Medieval Ireland. MA by research thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical identity is firmly rooted in the isolation of Britain from the Continent, but especially from Rome. In order to demonstrate this, many Anglo-Saxon texts will be examined, among these are Bede's writings, Stephen of Ripon's Life of Wilfrid, and several others. This perception was founded both in the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons and factors directly stemming from the conversion. Because of the nature of the conversion, that is, a direct mission from Gregory the Great, the Anglo-Saxons naturally felt a connection to Rome, while at the same time they felt isolated and peripheral because the reason that they were being converted was that they were a peripheral people. The factors originating in the conversion include the importation of Latin as both the language of learning and as the language of culture among the learned. Having brought home Classical and Patristic texts from the Continent, especially histories, Anglo-Saxon authors became aware of the Mediterranean perspective of Britain. That is, the belief that Britain was a cold, frozen island in the far northwestern corner of the world. The Anglo-Saxons internalized this connection and isolation and it is demonstrable both through their writings and through their actions. For example, pilgrimage to Rome appears to have been an important aspect of Anglo-Saxon religious life for secular people, as well as those in the ecclesiastic world. One might consider that all peoples living on islands in the ocean would react to their conversion in this fashion, however, as will be demonstrated, the Irish provide a counter example to the Anglo-Saxons. The Irish conception of their ecclesiastic identity was founded on Ireland itself. Rather than acknowledge isolation and peripherality as the Anglo-Saxons did, the Irish constructed their homeland to be holy and central in much the same way that the early Christians constructed the holiness of Jerusalem and its environs. That is, they created a landscape full of holy places and holy people. The method that these Irish authors used to create this landscape was to denote the specific location where each particular miracle was performed. This had several effects beyond the overall creation of Ireland as a holy and central place. One of these was that it connected the reader, who most likely would have been local to the miracle being described, more closely to these holy figures, as well as to the physical and spiritual landscape that they lived in. A second function, which was perhaps an unintended consequence, was to force those wishing to live the ascetic life into peregrinatio, that is, lifelong wandering outside of Ireland. Because Ireland itself had become holy in the minds of the early Irish monks, they were unable to effectively be ascetic in the same model as early Christian ascetics, that is, there was no spiritual desert in Ireland for them to retreat into. Thus, they had to leave and go to the Continent or go in search of a 'desert in the ocean'. In addition, an examination of the sources demonstrates that Irish authors used similar language when describing Jerusalem as they did Ireland, which, implies that they regarded the two as significant in holiness. Having constructed Ireland and Jerusalem in these terms, early medieval Irish authors made a strong statement of imagined centrality.

Item Type: Thesis (MA by research)
Academic Units: The University of York > History (York)
Depositing User: Brian Douglass
Date Deposited: 21 Nov 2011 15:12
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 08:47
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/1773

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