Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Britain and Early Christian Europe: Studies in Early Medieval History and Culture

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Britain and Early Christian Europe: Studies in Early Medieval History and Culture

Article excerpt

Britain and Early Christian Europe: Studies in Early Medieval History and Culture. By Patrick Sims-Williams. [Variorum Collected Studies Series,] (Brookfield,Vermont: Variorum,Ashgate Publishing Company. 1995. Pp. x, 337.)

This collection brings together fourteen essays, previously published separately, assembled under three headings, the Adventus Saxonum, Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical culture, and early medieval devotion. The majority are on AngloSaxon subjects while the others range from Welsh origins stories and charters to Irish and Spanish symptoms in the early medieval liturgy. All are informed by acute questioning, good sense, and immense learning. Sims-Williams now occupies a chair of Welsh literature, and the benefits of his literary and philological training can he seen in every essay.

Professor Sims-Williams' method is usually that of sharp and close textual reading, proceeding with infinite care to strip away the accretions of scholarly misinterpretation and wishful thinking from the text, to uncover the author's original intentions and meanings. The fruits of this approach can he seen in his two essays on Gildas and the Anglo-Saxon settlements, where his investigation of the De Excidio and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reveals the limitation of these sources as historical records of the Saxon incursions. Here Sims-Williams brings from his Celtic researches a stronger sense than many Anglo-Saxon historians have shown of the presence of oral traditions embedded in the written sources, arguing, for example, that Gildas relied almost entirely on oral sources and cannot be regarded as a reliable source for the fifth century.

Another group of six essays brings together studies resulting from the author's work on southwestern England in the seventh and eighth centuries. …

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