Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England

February 2015
5 black and white, 7 line illustrations
206 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Anglo-Saxon Studies
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS015000, HIS037010, REL000000

Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England

Michael D.J. Bintley

eBook for Handhelds
Drawing on sources from archaeology and written texts, the author brings out the full significance of trees in both pagan and Christian Anglo-Saxon religion.
Trees were of fundamental importance in Anglo-Saxon material culture - but they were also a powerful presence in Anglo-Saxon religion before and after the introduction of Christianity. This book shows that they remained prominent in early English Christianity, and indeed that they may have played a crucial role in mediating the transition between ancient beliefs and the new faith. It argues that certain characteristics of sacred trees in England can be determined from insular contexts alone, independent of comparative evidence from culturally related peoples. This nevertheless suggests the existence of traditions comparable to those found in Scandinavia and Germany. Tree symbolism helped early English Christians to understand how the beliefs of their ancestors about trees, posts, and pillars paralleled the appearance of similar objects in the Old Testament. In this way, the religious symbols of their forebears were aligned with precursors to the cross in Scripture. Literary evidence from England and Scandinavia similarly indicates a shared tradition of associations between the bodies of humans, trees, and other plant-life. Though potentially ancient, these ideas flourished amongst the abundance of vegetative symbolism found in the Christian tradition.

Michael Bintley is Senior Lecturer in Medieval Literature at Canterbury Christ Church University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction - Michael D.J. Bintley
Holy Trees and Inculturation in the Conversion Period - Michael D.J. Bintley
Anglo-Saxon Holy Trees and their Northern European Counterparts - Michael D.J. Bintley
Rewriting the Holy Rood in Anglo-Saxon Spiritual History - Michael D.J. Bintley
The Human Forest: People and Trees in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia - Michael D.J. Bintley
Conclusions - Michael D.J. Bintley
Bibliography - Michael D.J. Bintley


A solid contribution to early medieval scholarship, and a notably original one. EARLY MEDIEVAL EUROPE

One of its great strengths is that it takes in a great variety of data - archaeological, art historical, linguistic and literary....What makes this book distinctive is the focus on the possible religious roles of trees before and after the conversion to Christianity. MEDIEVAL ARCHAEOLOGY

This beautifully illustrated volume offers a sound overview. NOTTINGHAM MEDIEVAL STUDIES

Bintley demonstrates the malleability and indomitability of tree lore and, in doing so, provides a deeper, more rounded insight into the changing Anglo-Saxon cultures and systems of belief. TIME & MIND

Bintley has produced an intriguing, well-rounded disquisition into a fascinating subject. COMITATUS

Presents a sympathetic approach to the ways in which Christianity dealt with heathen tree worship by absorbing and reinterpreting its tree symbolism. . . . [M]akes a most valuable addition to the existing literature. SPECULUM

Author Bio

Lecturer in Early Medieval Literature and Culture at Birkbeck, University of London. Graduated from UCL.

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