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Constructing anglo-saxon sanctity: Tradition, innovation and Saint Guthlac

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Chapter Summary

This chapter responds to the provocation by focusing on the cult of the Anglo-Saxon Saint Guthlac. It focuses primarily on the Old English poem, Guthlac A, traditionally viewed as a 'literary' rather than a 'historical' text. The author argues that the poem affords insights into Anglo-Saxon constructions of sanctity which are not usually available from the Latin material; most notably, it illuminates ways in which tensions between traditional and Christian notions of ideal male behaviour were constructed and played out in Anglo-Saxon Christian discourses. The chapter allegorically presents Guthlac's death and rebirth into eternal life, and proceeds to describe his actual ascension to heaven. It discusses the prospect that the beorg in Guthlac A was expected to recall burial mounds, which in Christian Anglo-Saxon worldviews might be inhabited by the damned, and which in traditional culture heroes might break into in search of treasure.

Keywords: Anglo-Saxon sanctity; English poetry; eternal life; Saint Guthlac; traditional culture heroes



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