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Title: Angels in Anglo-Saxon England, 700-1000
Author: Sowerby, R. S.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis seeks to understand the changing place of angels in the religious culture of Anglo-Saxon England between AD 700 and 1000. From images carved in stone to reports of prophetic apparitions, angels are a remarkably ubiquitous presence in the art, literature and theology of early medieval England. That very ubiquity has, however, meant that their significance in Anglo-Saxon thought has largely been overlooked, dismissed as a commonplace of fanciful monkish imaginations. But angels were always bound up with constantly evolving ideas about human nature, devotional practice and the workings of the world. By examining the changing ways that Anglo-Saxon Christians thought about the unseen beings which shared their world, it is possible to detect broader changes in religious thought and expression in one part of the early medieval West. The six chapters of this thesis each investigate a different strand from this complex of ideas. Chapters One and Two begin with Anglo-Saxon beliefs at their most theological and speculative, exploring ideas about the early history of the angels and the nature of their society – ideas which were used to express and promote changing ideals about religious practice in early England. Chapters Three and Four turn to the ways that angels were believed to interact more directly in earthly affairs, as guardians of the living and escorts of the dead, showing how even apparently traditional beliefs reveal changing ideas about intercession, moral achievement and the supernatural. Lastly, Chapters Five and Six investigate the complicated ways that these ideas informed two central aspects of Anglo-Saxon religion: the cult of saints, and devotional prayer. A final Conclusion considers the cumulative trajectory of these otherwise distinct aspects of Anglo-Saxon thought, and asks how we might best explain the changing importance of angels in early medieval England.
Supervisor: Foot, S. R. Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History ; History of Britain and Europe ; Intellectual History ; Late antiquity and the Middle Ages ; Anglo-Saxon England ; angels ; early medieval Christianity