Thursday, March 28, 2013

Anglo-Saxon Occupation of Britain, Part II

The driving force in Britain up until now has been Christianity. Christianity has dictated everything: kings, land distribution, law, architecture, etc....Fortunately, I get to shake it up a bit in my next two part history for dummier dummies when I write about Odin and Thor and all the blood thirsties of the Vikings. But that is not now. Now is more Jesus.

More Jesus
Christian monks had to adapt their prayers and stories to attract an audience that admired strength. Anglo-Saxons found it hard to admire Christian reverence for suffering. Like Ethelbert, King Edwin of Northumbria was converted to Christianity and his people soon followed. The Christian movement was continuing to gain momentum in Anglo-Saxon Britain.

By 700 A.D. the whole of England had been converted to Christianity. After the conversion, advancements in civilization followed suit. Monasteries of a more sophisticated kind were built. They were large, powerful institutions with many different rooms such as a scriptorium (where manuscripts were copied) and herb gardens. They provided schooling and were increasingly important communities in themselves. These separate communities that developed started farming sheep and dairy. Britain was slowly recovering from the expulsion of the Romans, who took their successful society with them. 

Britain vs. Britain
The functioning society that Britain was establishing was soon tested not by an outside force, but from issues within its territories. The Welsh saw King Edwin as a foreign usurper who should bow to their more ancient faith. The Welsh, allied with the King of Mercia, fought Edwin and the Northumbrians in the Battle of Hatfield in 633 which resulted in Edwin's death. The British were wiping out Christianity despite their common faith.

Irish Christianity
The nature of the Anglo-Saxon rulers began to change as they were guided by their priests. The new King of Northumbria, Oswald, had been educated on the Scottish Island of Iona. He brought Irish educated monks to Northumbria to re-establish Christianity in his shattered kingdom.

The Northumbrian church was transformed through this exposure to Irish Christianity. The best traditions of classical education had survived  and classical manuscripts continued to be copied in Ireland because it was left undisturbed by the German migrants.

The Synod of Whitby
The Irish Church had become a law unto itself during the Dark Ages when it lost contact with Rome. By 664, it was a separate and rival organization which frequently disagreed with the papacy.

Oswy of Northumbria succeeded his brother, King Oswald, and called a National Church Council due to the variety of Roman, Celtic, Scottish and Irish church's disagreement of the date of Easter. The conference was attended by all the great figures of seventh-century British Christendom in a bid to stop the bickering between the Irish and Roman churches.

The decision was left to King Oswy to decide. Christianity in England prevailed and would be ran by the Roman Church, which had the virtue of being an efficient, permanently staffed, wealthy international organization as opposed to the Irish Church's reliance on the enthusiasm of individuals. All bishops were under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury who was (and remains) the principal leader of the Church of England.

Christianity had become a power throughout the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, as important as the kings and their lords. By the late 7th century the English church was sending missionaries back to Germany to convert the lands of their heathen forebears.

Rise of Civilization
Training schools were set up to ensure that each bishop had so many monks and priests to help with his work as well as provide schooling for gifted children. Greek and Latin were taught again as well as the ancient curriculum of the Seven Liberal Arts: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

Talented poets were most likely responsible for the fusion of Christian values and the Saxon warrior past. By the 8th century they had produced two of the greatest Anglo Saxon poems: The Dream of the Rood and Beowulf.

Northumbria began to lose its position as the dominant kingdom in England to Mercia. For the first time in England the King, Ethelbald of Mercia, began to style himself as King of All South England, while his successor, Offa, simply called himself King of the English. The two long reigns of the Mercian Kings practically covered the entire country and England prospered. Once known as barbarians, the Anglo-Saxons were now renowned for their orderly way of life and exemplary scholarship.

As Britain has seen up until now, with rise comes fall. And man, would they fall. All of the reforms and advances of Anglo-Saxon civilization would be tested when the Vikings invaded at the end of the 8th century.

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