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Reviewed by:
  • The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England
  • Clyde Curry Smith
Henry Mayr-Harting . The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England, 3d ed. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991. Pp. 334. $35.00; $14.95 paper.

This impressive volume, whose first edition appeared in 1972, has already received considerable reviewing attention. With such extensive coverage, what is required is consideration of modifications in this third edition, and some further comments on the work as a whole.

There had been issued a second edition in 1977, for which the change of font within the printed work still shows major corrections or alterations on many pages, and occasionally in the reference notes to the original chapters. There is a new preface for this edition, which confesses that in reality "it has not been feasible to update and perfect," but identifies some significant discussion pertinent to details [End Page 453] within, and adds a "selected bibliography, 1972-89," not least of which is passing reference to, but no extensive usage of, the periodical Anglo-Saxon England, whose first volume was published the year of the original edition.

Since no proper bibliography is present, the index (pp. 325-334, reset for this edition) seems thorough for the text, though one misses entries for all the modern scholars whose works play such a large role within the references. On the other hand, the beginning of the index says, "Numerals in italics refer to illustrations," but there are none—at least not in the paperback review copy! Page 174 points to a non-existent appendix on "the complicated subject of mass-books." What was originally an appendix has been converted into a final chapter (15) on "St. Boniface: Mirror of English History" set in the newer font, and with corresponding adjustment of notes (pp. 322-324). Note 6 of the reset Epilogue (p. 276) is missing from the non-reset notes (p. 325); in its place is a dangling reference of uncertain connection related to a preceding but non-existing note.

The frequent uses of "recently" scattered in the narrative or notes are all well out-of-date, since their referents belong to the decade of 1960-1970, as is the reference to excavations "at present in progress." One might even say the same of his deprecation of "the dismal urban agglomerations" of "the beautiful coastline of North-East England," though that might be a simple bias for antiquity over modernity! On the other hand, his imagery that "the guns of the Old Testament flash and pound" has such an anachronistic flavor, even if conceivable in its usage for an Anglo-Saxon appreciation of that collection's stories of royal violence, that a reviewer might be permitted the equally anachronistic notion that if one replaced the primacy of top-down structure (diocesan-episcopal) of which Mayr-Harting so approves, with a bottom-up structure (congregational-lay) for the period in question, one would tell a different kind of history (see the problem of ch. 14). That is, from this altered point-of-view, there just might be something amiss in "the coming of Christianity" any place—let alone Roman Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England (see p. 171). Then one would not have to protest against the pejorative use of "heathen," "pagan," and "paganism" which mars this otherwise fine work throughout, though especially in chapters 1 and 12.

Remaining annoyances include the inconsistent tendency in this age of an ecumenical Bible to spell Old Testament names in archaic Roman Catholic style, even when not called for by reference to Latin commentaries; but more especially the use of British English "race" with all its unfortunate, and anthropologically irresponsible, consequences—the kind that carry over into an inappropriate distinction "between Judaists and anti-Semites" "in the early days of the Church" (p. 104).

But thus weeded, in one profound sense this book is a commentary upon Bede, not merely of the History of the English Church and People, covering in two parts the "kings and conversion, 597-664" (chs. 1-7), and the "Christian achievement, c. 650-750" (chs. 8-15)—the former more chronological, the latter more topical (especially chs. 11-14: "Prayer...


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