Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, C.600-900

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, C.600-900

Article excerpt

Sarah Foot, Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, c.600-900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). xi + 398 pp. ISBN 0-521-85946-8. £53.00 (hard covers), £19.99 (p/b).

The central argument of Sarah Foot's Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, c.600-900 is that monasticism in Anglo-Saxon England before the tenth century is characterized by diversity, variety, and multiplicity of practice, rather than uniformity or homogeneity. Foot carefully unpicks the neat images of early Anglo-Saxon monasticism offered to us by both many contemporary Anglo-Saxon commentators (from Bede to iEtherwold) and some modern scholars, and, rather than imposing overarching generalizations or narratives of growth, decline, and later restoration, aims to recover the mixed realities of English monasticism as a 'social and spiritual phenomenon' (p. 1 1) in the early medieval period.

After setting out her aims and approaches with clarity, Foot begins by looking at 'the ideal minster' as imagined in sources from the period, exploring materials such as monastic rules and the St Gall plan. She also discusses the importance of kinship analogies in developing the communal structures and relationships of the monastery. But already here Foot begins to show the ways in which realities diverge from orderly ideals and paradigms, acknowledging that many of those entering monastic communities continued to maintain ties and loyalties with their blood kin, rather than severing them in exchange for their new family in God.

The study covers a comprehensive range of topics in relation to early medieval monasticism, divided into two main sections: 'Within the walls', which explores the development of minsters in the period, as well as the organization of communal life within them, and Without the walls', which examines wider relationships between individual minsters and the interactions between minsters and lay society. Here, Foot asks questions about the nature of connections between monastic houses, developing three models (the federation with colonies, the affinity, and the cluster) to describe the wide variety of associations or 'friendships' between minsters in the period. …

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