Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

Synopsis

The book was a central element of Anglo-Saxon art and society and a rich vehicle for cultural expression. In this study of the art of bookmaking throughout the Anglo-Saxon period, the author discusses the works and their readers, the scribes' materials and techniques, script and illumination.

Excerpt

The Anglo-Saxons entered the historical scene in the 5th century as pagan Germanic pirates and mercenaries, accompanied by their camp- followers. This was part of a much wider movement of 'barbarian' peoples (those living beyond the frontiers of Roman territory) who forced their way into the Empire, stimulated by a variety of motives. By the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 Anglo-Saxon England was one of the most sophisticated states of the medieval West, renowned for its cultural and ecclesiastical achievements and possessing complex administrative, legal and financial structures, many aspects of which were preserved by the new Norman élite.

Command of the written word, in addition to a well-developed oral tradition, was of tremendous importance in this transformation. The Anglo-Saxons were introduced to a full system of literacy as part of the process of conversion to Christianity, an enterprise launched by both the Celtic and Roman Churches, with some Gaulish participation, in the late 6th century. Within a century they and their Celtic neighbours had transformed the book into a rich vehicle for their distinctive art and culture, which was to exert an influence throughout the Middle Ages and beyond (1).

The Anglo-Saxon period may perhaps usefully be viewed as a series of phases: firstly, the sub-Roman and Migration period (early 5th to late 6th century); secondly, the Insular period (later 6th to mid-9th century); thirdly, the Alfredian renewal (late 9th century); fourthly, the later Anglo-Saxon period (10th and 11th centuries, to 1066).

Each phase brought new developments to the history of the book. The sub-Roman period witnessed a certain level of continuity of the literacy of Antiquity, through the agency of the Church. In the face of the pagan Germanic onslaught the indigenous British Church largely retreated into the 'Highland zone' (modern 'Celtdom'). It participated actively in the conversion of Ireland where a distinctive Christian culture emerged, noted for its learning and . . .

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