The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium: An Englishman's World

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"The Year 1000 is a vivid and surprising portrait of life in England a thousand years ago. A world that already knew brain surgeons and property developers and, yes, even the occasional gossip columnist. Uncovering such wonderfully unexpected details, authors Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger bring this distant world closer than it has ever been before. How did people survive without sugar? How did monks communicate if they were not allowed to speak? Why was July called "the hungry month"? The Year 1000 answers these questions and reveals such
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"The Year 1000 is a vivid and surprising portrait of life in England a thousand years ago. A world that already knew brain surgeons and property developers and, yes, even the occasional gossip columnist. Uncovering such wonderfully unexpected details, authors Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger bring this distant world closer than it has ever been before. How did people survive without sugar? How did monks communicate if they were not allowed to speak? Why was July called "the hungry month"? The Year 1000 answers these questions and reveals such secrets as the recipe for a medieval form of Viagra and a hallucinogenic treat called "crazy bread."
In the spirit of modern investigative journalism, Lacey and Danziger interviewed the top historians and archaeologists in the field. Their research led them to an ancient and little-known document of the period, the Julius Work Calendar, a sharply observed guide that takes us back in time to a charming and very human world of kings and revelers, saints and slave laborers, lingering paganism and profound Christian faith. This exuberant and informative book concludes as the shadow of the millennium descends across England and Christendom. While prophets of doom predict the end of the world, A.D. 1000 sees the arrival of such bewildering concepts as infinity and zero, along with the abacus-the medieval calculating machine. These are portents of the future, and The Year 1000 finishes by examining the human and social ingredients that were to make for success and achievement in the next thousand years."
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Editorial Reviews

Theo Spencer
If our biggest fear about the encroaching millennium is a pestiferous computer glitch, things could be -- and have been -- a lot worse, as historian Robert Lacey and journalist Denny Danziger make amusingly clear in their new book, The Year 1000. According to them, a phantasmagoria of woes (stomach-twisting famine, crop-killing floods, marauding Vikings, evil spirits, rampant disease) characterized the English millennial world. It was also "perfumed by shit." Medical treatment might involve the application of hot pokers in "an excruciatingly painful form of acupuncture"; internally dwelling parasites could pop out at any time through any orifice, including the corner of the eye; and poverty-induced indentured servitude was a seasonal threat.

The main purpose of the book, however, isn't to highlight the horrors of life 1,000 years ago but simply to portray it. The authors perform this task well, fusing their respective talents as historian and journalist into a crisp, anecdotal style and cramming an astonishing amount of information into 200 pages. It's hard to imagine a better executed, easier-to-digest primer on the social, political and religious life of the age.

We learn that average people in 1000 dressed in the sacklike tunics with leggings that "we laugh at in Monty Python movies," were just as tall as we are now (they shrank later, due to malnourishment), lived in wooden houses with dirt floors, recognized every animal in their village and knew who owned it, had a 90 percent chance of living in the country and a 99 percent shot at illiteracy, used moss for toilet paper and died in their 40s.

"For the vast majority of ordinary people, life was a struggle in even the smallest respect," the authors write. They do a good job of describing the working life of the time, which revolved around the harvest and bowed to such "milestones of misery" as floods, disease and famine. They also lay out, concisely and memorably, the evolution of the English language and the history of the centuries leading up to the millennium.

A hint of a jingoistic smile creeps across the mugs of Lacey and Danziger as they recount all the things their Sceptered Isle had over other countries by 1000: enforced laws and taxes, effective county and national governments, wealth (thanks mainly to the export of wool), a working silver coin-based monetary system with more than 70 local mints, a tradition of learning and record-keeping and a legal system that gave women equal rights as property owners. "Consent and social co-operation are among the most difficult elements to define in any society," the authors observe, "but they were to prove crucial for the long-term future of the English way."

Finally, Lacey and Danziger draw some provocative parallels between the first millennium and the second. They note that by 1000 Christianity (brought to England in 597 by Benedictine monks) had decisively defeated paganism and become the dominant religion in Western Europe, just as the battle between the "two mighty ideologies" of democracy and communism has now been decided. And just as the fringe societies of Europe then flocked to Christianity, so have the former Eastern Bloc countries embraced democracy. More chillingly, then just as now, "a new element of puritanical asceticism [was] claiming control of religion."

Times have changed, but human nature, clearly, has not.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Offering a delightful, often astonishing portrait of everyday life in Anglo-Saxon England in the year 1000, this wonderfully earthy chronicle, while timed for the end of this millennium, distinguishes itself from the sea of millennial titles by focusing on the end of the last one. Lacey (Sotheby's--Bidding for Class), a popular British historian, and London-based journalist Danziger (The Orchestra) focus on aspects of daily living. The Anglo-Saxons, a practical, self-contained, fervently superstitious people, were 99% illiterate, yet their language would become their most widespread legacy. Bristol was a slave-trading port, and the use of "bondservants" was a basic underpinning of the rural economy (the Norman invasion of 1066 would replace servitude with feudalism). There was no sugar, but honey was so valued that it became a form of currency. Personal hygiene was almost nonexistent, and most adults died in their 40s. Engla-lond, as the country was called, endured the best and the worst of times, enjoying unmatched prosperity but also falling prey to Viking raids, a menace that King Ethelred (the Unready) exacerbated by paying protection money. The narrative is organized in 12 chapters--one for each month--plus a closing chapter assessing the Anglo-Saxon legacy. Prefacing each chapter is a nimble, remarkably modern-looking, secular drawing of laborers' activities reproduced from the Julius Work Calendar, probably created by a cleric working in Canterbury Cathedral around 1020. This is a superb time capsule, and the authors distill a wealth of historical information into brightly entertaining reading. Agent, Curtis Brown. (Feb.)
While much of the historical material that appeared in the U.S. at the turn of the new millennium has focused on the turn of the century, 1899 to 1900, British journalists Lacey and Danziger have taken on the year 1000, "an empty world, with much more room to stretch out and breathe." It wasn't easy to bring this period to life because "documentary sources on life and events in the years around 1000 are tragically sparse." Yet, they interviewed an impressive number of academic specialists and unearthed useful printed sources such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Beowulf, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Life of St. Dunstan, and Bald's Leechbook, among others. They trace the course of the year using text and line drawings from a document called the Julius Work Calendar. The authors have assembled a great deal of detail about life during this time: agriculture and food, demographic and ethnic patterns, health and medical matters, weather and climate, kings and prominent persons, religion and monastic life, the status of women, migration of peoples, sports, warfare, folk beliefs, the economy, items of daily use, law and language. Lacey and Danziger are aware that a complete picture is not possible; e.g., while the most powerful, direct words of the English language were already firmly in place, they could find no record of swear words. Hmm. The authors incorporate nice touches: sounds and smells, the relative sizes of persons across the two millennia, the manufacture of coins, the reliance on faith before anyone knew about germs, the beginnings of schools and hospitals, the predations and achievements of the Vikings, the evolution of the number system. It is nice toknow there existed "a remarkably sophisticated economic and administration system that reached from one end of England to the other." Only a short amount of time passed between the year 1000 and the Norman Conquest in 1066, which significantly changed the life of the country. Though the authors touch continental Europe briefly, the book leaves the reader wondering what was going on elsewhere in the world but also sensitive to the difficulty of locating hard, date-specific information. The reader cannot help but appreciate the authors' light touch and conscientious research regarding a place that had profound influence on many aspects of our lives today. Libraries will probably have little information regarding the end of the first millennium, so many, maybe most, libraries serving high school up should put this into their next order. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Little Brown/Back Bay, 230p, 21cm, 98-31254, $12.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Edna M. Boardman; former Lib. Media Spec., Magic City Campus, Minot, ND, September 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 5)
Library Journal
Authors Lacey (Grace; Sotheby's) and Danziger (of the London Independent) have set out to capture what life was like in Anglo-Saxon England at the end of the first millennium. The framework for their story was provided by a priceless written work from that period, "The Julius Work Calendar." Designed to allow readers to keep track of saints' days, the calendar also includes impressionistic sketches that illustrate the common activities of each month and lines of Latin verse in the form of singsong doggerel to illuminate the activities portrayed in the sketches. The authors make use of the sketches and verse to describe each month's activities and in so doing dispel some popular misconceptions about life in late Anglo-Saxon England. For example, in the England of the year 1000 the forests occupied about as much area as they do today, and Anglo-Saxon women, on average, were taller than modern English women. This popular history should appeal to both the general reader and students of the period.--Robert James Andrews, Duluth P.L., MN
Kirkus Reviews
An amusing, though lightweight, examination of English life in the year 1000. With millennial fever gripping the publishing world, biographer Lacey (Grace, 1994, etc.) and London Independent journalist Danziger bring us back 1,000 years. Using a variety of sources, including the writings of the Venerable Bede, the Julius Work Calendar, and Beowulf, the authors probe topics as varied as Viking military strategy, coin-making, the Easter feast, and the development of English. It's clear that Christianity permeated almost every aspect of daily life: "This was an age of faith. People believed as fervently in the powers of saints' bones as many today believe that wheat bran or jogging or psychoanalysis can increase the sum of human happiness." Christian monks preserved ancient knowledge by painstakingly transcribing Greek and Roman texts; they also established schools and hospitals. The Church's political power rivaled the state's, as both institutions promoted reverence for authority. Gerbert of Aurillac, the pope sitting in Rome at the millennium, was a ruthless political infighter and a brilliant scholar who helped popularize the abacus. The authors dub him, somewhat glibly, "the first millennium's Bill Gates." The book possesses a wide-ranging, quickly shifting focus that is alternately charming and exasperating. Like hummingbirds, the authors never spend much time on any one subject. For example, they'll begin a chapter by discussing bread-making, then shift to the problems posed by insects, before finishing with the horrors of medieval medicine (leeches, bloodletting, etc.). While they lack the concentrated approach of historians, they're quite entertaining. Thebook is weakest, however, when it tries to draw parallels between the year 1000 and today. It's more than silly, for example, when they refer to the medicinal herb agrimony as "the Viagra of the year 1000."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316511490
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000

Read an Excerpt

The Year 1000

What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium: An Englishman's World

By Robert Lacey Back Bay Books

Copyright © 2000 Robert Lacey
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316511575

Chapter One


For All the Saints

If you were to meet an Englishman in the year 1000, the first thing that would strike you would be how tall he was — very much the size of anyone alive today. It is generally believed that we are taller than our ancestors, and that is certainly true when we compare our stature to the size of more recent generations. Malnourished and overcrowded, the inhabitants of Georgian or Victorian England could not match our health or physique at the end of the twentieth century.

But the bones that have been excavated from the graves of people buried in England in the years around 1000 tell a tale of strong and healthy folk — the Anglo-Saxons who had occupied the greater part of the British Isles since the departure of the Romans. Nine out of ten of them lived in a green and unpolluted countryside on a simple, wholesome diet that grew sturdy limbs — and very healthy teeth. It was during the centuries that followed the first millennium that overpopulation and overcrowding started to aVect the stature and well-being of western Europeans. Excavations of later medieval sites reveal bodies that are already smaller than those discovered from the years around 1000, and archaeologists who havestudied these centuries say that they can almost see the devastation of the Black Death looming in the evidence of the increasingly frail and unhealthy skeletal remains.

Life was simple. People wore the simple, sack-like tunics with leggings that we laugh at in the Monty Python movies, though in colours that were rather less muddy. Despite the lack of sharp chemical dyes in the year 1000, natural vegetable colourings could produce a range of strong and cheerful hues, with bright reds, greens, and yellows. It was a world without buttons, which had yet to be invented. Clothes were still fastened with clasps and thongs.

Life was short. A boy of twelve was considered old enough to swear an oath of allegiance to the king, while girls got married in their early teens, often to men who were significantly older than they were. Most adults died in their forties, and fifty-year-olds were considered venerable indeed. No one "went out to work," but the evidence of arthritis in the bones excavated from Anglo-Saxon graves indicates that most people endured a lifetime of hard manual labour — and the Julius Work Calendar shows the diVerent forms which that labour could take. Across the bottom of January's calendar page moves the ploughman, slicing open England's damp and often clay-ridden crust with the heavy iron blade that had been the making of the country's farming landscape.

"The ploughman feeds us all," declared Aelfric, the Wessex schoolmaster who, in the years 987 to 1002, taught his pupils by getting them to observe and analyse the diVerent economic activities they could see around them. "The ploughman gives us bread and drink."

It looks so slow and primitive to us, the heavy plough dragged by the oxen train. But compared to farming technologies in many other parts of the world at that time, the wheeled and iron-bladed plough of northwestern Europe was supercharged, enabling just two men to tear up a whole acre of soil with the help of the beasts which not only provided the "horsepower," but enriched the fields with their manure.

The wheeled plough was the foundation of life for English people living in the year 1000. It opened the soil to air and water, enabling soluble minerals to reach deep levels, while rooting out weeds and tossing them aside to wither in the open air. It was not a new invention. In the middle of the first century a.d., the Roman historian Pliny the Elder described some such device in use to the north of the Alps, and the evidence suggests that this powerful and handy machine was the crucial element in cultivating the land cleared from Europe's northwestern forests. One man to hold the plough, one to walk with the oxen, coaxing and singing and, when necessary, goading the animals forward with a stick: this drawing shows the furrows of freshly turned earth, the secret of how the soil had been tamed in the course of the previous centuries. It was the reason why, by the turn of the millennium, England was able to support a population of at least a million souls.

The calendar page on which the wheeled plough was sketched represented an equally developed and practical technology — the measuring of time. Today we take calendars for granted. Garages hand them out for nothing at Christmas. But the challenge of how to formulate a working system of dates had consumed the energies of the brightest minds for centuries, with every culture and religion devising its own system of reckoning, and in Christendom confusion centred particularly on the timing of the Church's most important festival — Easter.

The early Christians debated it furiously. Christ was crucified as the Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, so Easter's timing depended on the Jewish lunar calendar based on the 29H-day cycle from new moon to new moon. But planning a full year's sequence of church festivals meant that the lunar timetable had to be fitted into the 365G-day rotation of the seasons, based on the annual cycle of the sun — and whichever way you try to squeeze it, 29H into 365G does not go.

"Such was the confusion in those days," related the Venerable Bede, the great chronicler of the times, describing the calendar arguments in mid-seventh-century England, "that Easter was sometimes kept twice in one year, so that when the King had ended Lent and was keeping Easter, the Queen and her attendants were still fasting and keeping Palm Sunday."

The king was Oswy of Northumbria, the northernmost of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Oswy followed the calendar of the Irish-influenced monks of Lindisfarne, who first converted Northumbria, while his bride, Eanfled of Kent, stayed true to the Roman calculations with which she had been brought up in Canterbury. A learned synod was convened at Whitby on the Yorkshire coast to resolve this and several other conflicts of church practice, and it provoked deep ill-humour.

"Easter is observed by men of diVerent nations and languages at one and the same time in Africa, Asia, Egypt, Greece, and throughout the world," argued Canterbury's representative. "The only people who stupidly contend against the whole world are those Irishmen and their partners in obstinacy, the Picts and Britons, who inhabit only a portion of these, the two uppermost islands of the ocean."

"It is strange that you call us stupid," retorted the Irish delegation, citing the Apostle John as their authority. They set out their own system of juggling the moon and sun cycles with all the disdainful superiority of the senior faith, since the Irish had been Christians long before the English. St. Patrick had established his church in Ireland a century and a half before Pope Gregory's envoy Augustine arrived in Canterbury to found the English church, and it had been missionaries from Ireland, not Kent, who had Christianised Scotland and the north of England.

But when the seaside convention concluded its arguments, it was Canterbury that won the day — a victory, in terms of church politics, for the centralising authority of the Pope in Rome, and a decision, in terms of the calendar, that opened the way for Bede, the monk from Tyneside who was both historical chronicler and master mathematician, to work out a system of dating that would settle the argument once and for all.

On the eve of the year 2000, the English have staked a proprietorial interest in the turning of the second millennium, thanks to Greenwich with its mean time and the zero line of longitude. Thanks to the Venerable Bede, they could claim a similar interest in the first. Not that we should look for Domes or any special millennarial monuments in 1000 a.d. It was an anniversary which, by definition, could only mean something to people who dated their history from the birth of Jesus, and even inside Christendom there were varying interpretations of that. But if any country worked to dates we would recognise today, it was England, and that was because of the Venerable Bede, who popularised the use of the Anno Domini system through his famous work De Temporum Ratione, "On the Reckoning of Time."

Composed in 725 a.d., De Temporum Ratione was based on the Easter calculations of the sixth-century Scythian scholar Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Little). In the course of compiling Easter tables for Pope John I, Dionysius had remarked, almost incidentally, how inappropriate it was for the Church to rely upon the pagan calendar of the Romans, particularly since its years dated back to the great persecutor of the Christians, the Emperor Diocletian. Would it not make more sense, Dionysius had suggested, to date the Christian era from the birth of our Saviour Himself, which could be designated as the year 1?

The scholar made two major errors at this point. The concept of zero had not yet entered Western mathematical thinking, which operated in Roman numerals, so Dionysius's Christian era missed out the twelve months of year 0 needed to get to the start of year 1. Still more seriously, the year that Dionysius selected for Christ's birth actually fell four years after the death of the notorious King Herod, who had been so memorably enraged by the birth in Bethlehem of a rival king of the Jews. The Gospel description of Christ's birth as occurring in the reign of Herod means that Jesus was probably born in 4 b.c., or even earlier (which also means that the second millennium of his birth should actually have been celebrated in 1996 or 1997, and not in the year 2000).

Bede detected this error in Dionysius's proposed year 1 a.d., but evidently felt that the few years of inaccuracy mattered less than the dazzling concept of dating history according to the "Years of Grace," the era of Christ's reign on earth. When Bede composed his great Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731, he used the Anno Domini dating system, and when, at the end of the next century, the scribes of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle started their work of recording England's history year by year, it was Bede's system that they followed.

Confusion remained as to what day was the true beginning of the Christian year. Bede took it for granted that the year should begin with the birth of Christ himself, on December 25. But following that logic back through nine months of pregnancy, one arrived at March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, or Lady Day, the festival celebrated by the church in commemoration of Mary's visitation from the Angel Gabriel, and the news that she was bearing the Christ child. For a Christian this represented the earliest manifestation of the Divine Presence on earth, and Lady Day was accordingly celebrated for centuries as the true beginning of the year. As late as the 1660s, Samuel Pepys reflected this enduring confusion in his Diaries, starting his reckoning of the years on Lady Day (March 25), but also noting the Roman consular date of January 1 as "New Year's Day."

All this complicated grappling with the imponderables of sun, moon, stars, and the fallible accretions of human history is graphically displayed on the pages of the Julius Work Calendar, which takes the twelve Roman months with which we today are familiar, and overlays them with a filigree of Christian elaboration. The mysterious-looking columns of letters and numerals that run down the left-hand side of every page are part of the mechanism for calculating Easter and other festivals. The so-called Golden numbers indicate the occurrence of the new moon, while the Dominical letters show where Sundays will fall in any given year — since this calendar does not relate to one particular set of twelve months. It is a perpetual calendar, and its complicated codings are like the innards of a computer, baffling to the layman, but the route to knowledge for those who understand the code.

One inch in from the left of the page runs a solid column of Roman numerals setting out the day of the month according to the Romans' own daunting system of counting things backwards — from KL, the Kalends, or first day of the month, down through the Nones to the Ides, the turning point of the month, which fell on the thirteenth or fifteenth. But it is the writing to the right of the date that really matters, for here was listed the main purpose of the calendar, the names of the saints and religious festivals to be observed.

Good and evil were living companions to people in the year 1000. When someone was said to have the Devil in him, people took it quite literally. Jack Frost was not "weather" to people who had to survive without central heating through a damp medieval winter. He was mischief personified — a kinsman of the Devil, nipping noses and fingers, making the ground too hard to work. He was one of a legion of little people, elves and trolls and fairies, who inhabited the fears and imaginings of early medieval folk.

But the Church had its own army of spirits, the saints who had lived their lives — and often lost their lives — for the sake of Jesus' teaching, and the principal purpose of the Julius Work Calendar was to provide a daily diary of encounters with those holy folk whose lives were an example and promise of how things could get better. This was the spiritual function of the calendar, and at a more basic level it provided a guide through a wonderfully varied collection of human characters whose lives, adventures, and personalities provided entertainment, as close as any medieval document could get to gossip.

Personal portraits did not really exist in the early Middle Ages. Even kings were only depicted as symbolic and idealised figures on their coins. But when it came to the lives of the saints, you had a chance to analyse their personalities, pondering the peculiarities of a character like Simeon Stylites, the fifth-century hermit who spent much of his life living naked on top of increasingly high pillars, or learning from the life of Mary of Egypt, the patron saint of fallen women. Mary was an Egyptian who left home at the age of twelve and went to live in fifth-century Alexandria, where she became a prostitute for seventeen years. Through curiosity she joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, paying for her passage by oVering herself to the sailors. But on arriving at the holy city with her fellow pilgrims, she found it impossible to enter the church. She felt herself held back by an invisible force, and when she lifted her eyes to an image of the Virgin Mary, she heard a voice telling her to cross theriver Jordan,where she would find rest.So,according to legend, she bought three loaves and went to live in the desert, spending the rest of her life there living on dates and berries. When her clothes wore out, her hair grew long enough to cover her modesty, and she dedicated the rest of her life to prayer and contemplation. Mary featured frequently in medieval chronicles and church statues, identified by her long hair and by the three loaves that became her emblem.<SUP>10</SUP>

People identified with the personalities and quirks of saints, as today they feel they know soap opera stars. The hagiographies that recounted their stories were bland and stereotyped eulogies, usually written by loyal followers and friends. But human clues lurked in the details, and every saint's day of the month oVered its own drama. In the monasteries, morning prayers were said to that day's holy figures. Prayer was a way of asking a saint to pay attention to your own particular worries. Singing was a beautiful way of saying, "Please listen." The God of the Middle Ages was a God who intervened actively in daily life. That was the message of the miracles executed by Jesus and continued by his saints. So one function of worship was to secure divine intervention on your own behalf.

After prime, the first service of the day after sunrise, the monks would repair to their chapterhouse — the monastery meeting room — where the lives of that day's saints would be read out, and one of the sermons preached in chapel might well take an incident from the life of that particular day's saint as the jumping-off point for some practical teaching. January 5 offered the feast day of Simeon Stylites,the pillar-dwelling hermit,while other days featured Isidorus of Seville, who had proclaimed that there should be a cathedral school in every diocese; St. Genevieve, who saved Paris from Attila the Hun, and whose candle was blown out by the devil when she went to pray at night; St. Lucien, who was imprisoned for his faith by the emperor Diocletian; St. Timothy, a companion of St. Paul who was stoned to death by the heathens; St. Secundinus, who wrote the earliest known Latin hymn in Ireland; and the hermit St. Paul of Thebes, who was said to have survived more than a hundred years of piety and austerity in the desert.

Each hero or heroine had their own lesson to teach. It could carry you through the day, a psychic talisman of encouragement, and the geography of the saints' adventures — from Antioch to Seville, then north to Paris and Ireland — provided a lesson in itself about the varied shape and character of a world which extended further than we might imagine. The Anglo-Saxons knew of three continents — Europe, Africa, and Asia — and they also knew about India. Late in the ninth century King Alfred sent money to help the Christian missionaries there.

England itself was a network of magical sites. The altar of every church contained the physical relics of at least one saint. The origin of the tradition whereby many modern churches are dedicated to a particular saint goes back to the founding principle of Roman church belief that a saint is intimately present wherever his or her relics might rest. Heaven was visualised as being something like the royal court. God sat there in judgement like the king, and paid most attention to those who could catch His ear. On earth it was the great warriors and magnates who enjoyed that access. In heaven it was the saints. Their holy lives and suVering on earth had earned them direct transfer from earth to God's presence, without any waiting in purgatory, while their bodies, or the body parts reposing in the altar of their church, were believed to be still living. Many were the reports of saints' tombs being opened and evidences of life being discovered — growing hair or nails, or unperished limbs still containing blood — proof of the vitality and effectiveness of the Christian god. The churches whose saints proved particularly potent became centres of cults and pilgrimage.

When King Ethelbert of Kent received the first group of Christian priests who brought him greetings from the Pope in Rome in 597 a.d., he insisted on meeting them in the open air, so the wind would blow away any spells that they might try to cast upon him with their alien magic. Four hundred years later the Christian magic had all England in its thrall, and the shrines of its saints provided the nation with its energy centres. Up in the north were the relics of the Venerable Bede, cherished since his death in 735 by the monks of Tyneside and Wear. Within fifty years of his death his cult as a saint was well established by local testimony that his relics had worked miraculous cures, and the potency of Bede's bones was such that many laid claim to them. In the mid-eleventh century they were transferred to Durham. Down in Wessex, Glastonbury claimed some relics of Bede to augment the abbey's reputation as one of the most holy spots in England. According to later legend, Jesus himself had walked in ancient times at Glastonbury "in England's pleasant pastures," and St. Joseph of Arimethea had travelled here to plant the famous Glastonbury Thorn, which had been taken from the Crown of Christ, and which flowered every year at Christmas.

At the heart of Wessex, in the great cathedral at Winchester, lay the body of St. Swithin, bishop of Winchester in the middle of the ninth century, and the object of a busy cult within a century of his death. According to Aelfric, the schoolteacher and great prose writer of his day, the sick flocked to Winchester in vast numbers to be cured by St. Swithin. "Within ten days," recorded Aelfric, "two hundred men were healed, and so many within twelve months, that no man could count them. The burial ground lay filled with crippled folk, so that one could not easily visit the cathedral."

Aelfric was a teacher in the monastery school in Cerne Abbas, a few days' ride from Winchester, where he himself was educated, so it seems most likely that he was reporting from firsthand observation. Living and teaching for more than a dozen years in the shadow of the Cerne Abbas giant, the great pagan fertility god with rampant genitalia carved out of the chalk hillside above the village, it is not surprising that the ironic and quizzical Aelfric should have displayed a detached view of certain human claims to contact with the supernatural: "Some dreams are in truth from God, even as we read in books," he once wrote, "and some are from the Devil for some deceit, seeking how he may pervert the soul." But of the miracles in the crowded tenth-century cemetery of Winchester, Aelfric had no doubt: "All were so miraculously healed within a few days," he wrote, "that one could not find there five unsound men out of that great crowd."

This was an age of faith. People believed as fervently in the powers of saints' bones as many today believe that wheat bran or jogging or psychoanalysis can increase the sum of human happiness. The saints had lived real lives. They had measured their principles fearlessly against adversity — and many had lived quite recently, since there was no formal process of canonisation as there is today. A beloved local abbot or abbess could become a saint in their locality within a few years of their death. Mass outpourings of grief like that which attended the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 were the first step to sainthood in the year 1000. The next step was the testimony of the faithful to portents and miracles occurring.

You were not on your own. That was the comforting message of the little Julius Work Calendar with its twelve monthly recitations of saints' festivals. God was there to help, and so was a whole network of fellow human beings, from the distant past up to your own era. In the year 1000 the saints were a presence as vital and dynamic as any band of elves or demons. They were a living community to whom one prayed, and among whom one lived.


Excerpted from The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey Copyright © 2000 by Robert Lacey. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

The Julius Work Calendar, The Wonder of Survival 3
January, For All the Saints 7
February, Welcome to Engla-lond 23
March, Heads for Food 37
April, Feasting 51
May, Wealth and Wool 65
June, Life in Town 83
July, The Hungry Gap 99
August, Remedies 115
September, Pagans and Pannage 131
October, War Games 147
November, Females and the Price of Fondling 161
December, The End of Things, or a New Beginning? 177
The English Spirit 193
Acknowledgements 203
Bibliography 207
Source Notes 215
Index 221
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