• Constructing Anglo-Saxon Sanctity: Tradition, Innovation and Saint Guthlac

    Alaric Hall (see profile)
    English poetry--Old English, Anglo-Saxons--Study and teaching, Hagiography
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Guthlac A, Saint Guthlac, anglo-saxon poetry, Anglo-Saxon studies
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    'Constructing Anglo-Saxon Sanctity: Tradition, Innovation and Saint Guthlac' develops the unique opportunities afforded by the hagiography surrounding the Anglo-Saxon saint Guthlac for investigating the place of saints' cults in Anglo-Saxon society. Guthlac was one of England's first home-grown saints, and enjoyed a commensurate prominence in Anglo-Saxon culture. Besides being the subject of some of England's earliest Latin hagiography, Guthlac is the only native saint to have received hagiography in the form of Old English poetry. Moreover, while the majority of Old English poetry was closely based on Latin sources, the long poem Guthlac A was not. The article focuses on this unusual poem, examining its combination of an Anglo-Saxon subject and medium with a Christian genre to gain access to Anglo-Saxon images of saints which are usually hidden from us. Guthlac's rite of passage is a struggle with the demons who inhabit his hermitage in the East Anglian fens; significantly, although this phase of his life is prominent in all texts, Guthlac A focuses on it almost exclusively. The article analyses this portrayal of Guthlac as a monster-fighter in the context of other Anglo-Saxon handlings of monster-fighting, principally Beowulf. Guthlac A can be seen to invert traditional Anglo-Saxon imagery and diction of monster-fighting, to emphasise that Guthlac's peaceful invocations of God and saints are superior to traditional physical violence. Likewise, the poem situates the conflict in a space whose traditional connotations are shown by other Anglo-Saxon evidence to have been of heathenism and banishment--a situation which Guthlac overcomes, to redefine the meanings of traditional topoi in a Christian world.
    Visualising the Middle Ages, 1
    Published as:
    Book chapter    
    Last Updated:
    6 years ago
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