Soldier Saints and Holy Warriors: Warfare and Sanctity in the Literature of Early England

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Christian authors of the Late Antique period deliberately set themselves the ambitious goal of revolutionizing the world of Latin letters, particularly concerning the questions of warfare and sanctity. In this new study, John Damon explores how one of these writers, Sulpicius Severus, created in his account of the life of St. Martin of Tours an anti-heroic literary model that reflected the new spiritual, political, and social realities of a Roman society in transformation from a pluralistic polytheism to univocal monotheism.

Focusing on the body of early English Christian literature from the arrival of Roman Christianity in England through the period of the Crusades, Damon demonstrates the persistence of Sulpicius's model, despite obvious differences in the representation of saints and warriors in the literature of early England. Between the pious, peaceful saints and willing martyrs of late antiquity and the chivalric Christian heroes of the Middle Ages seems to lie an unbridgeable gulf; yet Damon shows how the two ideals presented intertwining and competing visions of Christian heroism throughout the period.

Hagiography is the primary literary genre he examines to document the changing ethos from rejection of warfare to formal accommodation with and eventually active participation in wars considered "just" or "holy." From Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica, through the works of Alcuin and Ælfric, to the South English Legendary, Damon traces the subtle evolution in Christianity from the celebration of pacifist saints to the glorification of the new breed of holy warrior who not only died but fought for Christ.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780754604730
  • Publisher: Ashgate Publishing, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Pages: 327
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 8.92 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Saint Martin of Tours, Christian Anti-hero
Sulpicius and the anti-heroic 1
Anti-war tropes in the Vita Sancti Martini 10
Soldier saints, holy warriors and the prehistory of the Crusades 21
Ch. 2 Holy Kingship: Sanctification of Warfare
Holy kingship and the Anglo-Saxons 26
Tropes in the cult of martyred warrior-kings 28
Edwin in the Life of Gregory the Great 30
Edwin in Bede's Historia Eccelesiastica 35
Oswald in Bede's Historia Eccelesiastica 42
The cult of warrior-kings 56
Ch. 3 Saint Guthlac, Spiritual Warrior
The trope of spiritual transformation 58
Guthlac and spiritual transformation 62
Earthly warfare in Felix's Vita Sancti Guthlaci 64
Spiritual warfare in Felix's Vita Sancti Guthlaci 75
King AEthelbald's spiritual transformation 81
Changing perceptions of warfare and sanctity 90
Ch. 4 Holiness and Heroism: Poetic Lives of Soldier Saints
Hagiography and poetry 93
Heroic saintly women: 'Juliana' and 'Elene' 95
Juliana: steadfast soldier of Christ 96
Elene: saintly power and prestige 107
Andreas: warrior evangelist 123
The Anglo-Saxon spiritual warrior: 'Guthlac A' and 'Guthlac B' 131
'Guthlac B': lordship and sainthood 131
'Guthlac A': transformation of the chosen saint 137
Old English verse saints' lives: unity in diversity 146
Ch. 5 Alcuin and Abbo: Cultural Cross-pollination
Cross-channel contacts and cultural cross-pollination 148
Alcuin's poem on the bishops, kings and saints of York 149
Edwin and heroic Christian kingship 151
Oswald, scepter and sword 159
Abbo of Fleury's Passio Sancti Eadmundi 167
Abbo's Edmund: holy martyr, holy king 176
Holy cross, holy sword 190
Ch. 6 AElfric: Path of the Holy Christian Soldier
AElfric's Lives of Saints and the trope of spiritual fulfillment 192
Exclusions and inclusions: Lives of Saints as composite text 198
Warfare and violence in AElfric's Lives of Saints 207
Alban, Edmund and Oswald: violence and Christian resistance 211
Judas Machabeus and the order of bellatores 218
Spiritual fulfillment and 'The Forty Soldiers, Martyrs' 237
AElfric's synthesis 244
Ch. 7 Warfare and Sanctity: Record of a Changing Ethos
Hagiography and cultural change 247
Anglo-Saxon versions of the Life of Martin 250
Aldhelm's Martin: virgin of Christ 252
Alcuin's Martin: active fighter for Christ 253
Martin in the Old English Martyrology 257
The anonymous Martin homily: secular versus spiritual 259
AElfric: changing conceptions of warfare and sanctity 264
Martin, soldier sainthood and the call to Crusade 274
Martin in the South English Legendary 'with is swerd adrawe' 277
Warfare and sanctity in the later Middle Ages 282
App. 1 The Chronology of St. Martin's Life 284
App. 2 St Guthlac's Popularity in Early England 286
References 288
Index 310
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