Word and Image: An Introduction to Early Medieval Art

By William J. Diebold | Go to book overview

1
Books for the Illiterate? Art in an Oral Culture

Christian legend holds that the religion had already reached northern Europe by the first century. Historical study indicates that the second or third century is a more likely date. And by the year 600, when the narrative of this book begins, Christianity was firmly established in some areas of Europe ( Italy, southern France) but virtually unknown elsewhere ( England, much of Germany). One of Gregory the Great's goals was to spread Christianity to those who were not Christian and to regulate Christian practice among those who were. Gregory is crucial to our story because images are one of the means he used to achieve these goals.

In 597 the pope sent a mission to England to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons. This mission, led by Augustine (not to be confused with the more famous fourth-century bishop, author of The Confessions and The City of God), encountered the Anglo-Saxon ruler Ethelbert on the island of Thanet just off the southeast coast of England. The meeting of missionary and pagan king was described in an eighth- century British source, Bede's History of the English Church and People:

After some days, the king came to the island and, sitting down in the open air, summoned Augustine and his companions to an audience. But

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Word and Image: An Introduction to Early Medieval Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction - The Character of Early Medieval Art 1
  • 1 - Books for the Illiterate? Art in an Oral Culture 9
  • 2 - Art in the Service of the Word 45
  • 3 - Books for the Illiterate? 71
  • 4 - The Crisis of Word and Image 99
  • 5 - Inscriptions and Images: 127
  • Conclusion - "Brother, What Do You Think of This Idol?" 139
  • Notes 149
  • Further Reading in English 153
  • Index 157
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