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Book Review: The Saints of Anglo-Saxon England (9th – 11th Centuries)

Author: Vladimir Moss

Publisher: St Nectarios Press, Seattle: Washington (1992).

A rather interesting three volume collection of hagiographical accounts of saints which due to their era have often been forgotten, overlooked or not widely known. There is more literature available about the evangelists and early saints of England, as well as the ecclesial circumstances of their time.

Yet as the detailed and ecclesially grounded hagiographical accounts which Vladimir Moss provides, is an excellent effort to rectify this problem. However in some accounts the language is somewhat muddled or unclear, and so one sees the narrative jumping from one situation to another without warning. This is the only problem with this series of books, and I would attribute it to the primary sources which Vladimir had to work with, since as we said it is part of Church history that is not known. Nevertheless, Vladimir provides a scholarly explanation for our present day ignorance citing that the Orthodoxy of English Christianity was placed under successive and sporadic pressures from 780AD onwards by an ever-growing papacy gaining power.

The Great Schism of 1054 had no immediate impact upon England until the Pope gave his blessing to the Normans, led by William the Conqueror, to invade England in 1066. For it was 1066 that the Norman “Crusade” helped impose finally and firmly Rome’s control over English Christianity. Many churches and monasteries were burnt, holy sites and relics desecrated, while clergy and laity who refused to tow the Papal line were killed, condemned as heretics, imprisoned and so forth. Those who were able to escape, fled to Byzantium, many men finding employment within the Varangian Guard (possibly in the hope to fight Papists).

It is thus fair to say that 1066 was a prelude to the Crusades to which Byzantium endured and suffered. Therefore I encourage people to learn of the lives of saints who not only withstood the pagan invasions of the Vikings, but endeavoured to keep the Faith and its own particular English cultural expression.

Reviewed by V.M.

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