Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Dramatic Liturgy of Anglo-Saxon England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Dramatic Liturgy of Anglo-Saxon England

Article excerpt

M. Bradford Bedingfield, The Dramatic Liturgy of Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2002). ix + 246 pp.; 8 plates. ISBN 0-85115-873-0. £45.00.

Very few monographs have so far been devoted to Anglo-Saxon liturgy; a subject which is central to our understanding of the ecclesiastical culture of pre-Conquest England, but whose complexities and perceived marginality to the aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture which have engaged most scholarly attention have not encouraged its study. M. Bradford Bcdingneld's book is a welcome and striking contribution, which stresses the nature of liturgy as a performed event, expressive of the same trends and agendas as other cultural products.

The key to Bcdingficld's analysis is his assertion that '|i|t is ritual's ability to make the participants an active part of the events reactualixcd that makes it "dramatic" ' (p. 7). In his introduction, he addresses the much-pondered question of whether or not the Anglo-Saxon Visitatio Sepulchri is the origin of later medieval representational drama, by stressing the way in which the scene works in the context of the Anglo-Saxon liturgy; a context which requires it to be precisely not a staged, mimetic version of an imagined world, but rather an inherently interactive event, which needs the participation of the congregation to have meaning. Bedingficld rightly proposes distinguishing ceremonies like the Visitatio Sepulchri from later medieval drama by referring to them as 'dramatic ritual' rather than as 'drama'.

From this starting point, Bcdingfield sets out the three main aspects of Anglo-Saxon liturgy which his study aims to demonstrate: that it promoted identification with biblical figures, highlighted participatory elements, and - especially through preaching in the vernacular - enabled conscious participation by the congregation in the re-enactment of ceremonies and events. Hc draws his primary examples from the later Anglo-Saxon period, and argues that the tenth century saw major innovations in liturgical dramatic ritual in England. …

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