ASC Rewind: Writings on the Calendar by the Venerable Bede

University of Glasgow Library Blog

This series revisits our Book of the Month archive to highlight some of our favourite articles and explore the ASC collections they describe with new eyes.

This article was originally published on January 2001 by Julie Gardham and the full article can still be found on our website in the Book of the Month archive.

Today we’re taking another look at MS Hunter 85 (T.4.2) with Easter in mind. This vellum manuscript is a compilation of several works mainly concerning the use of the Calendar, by the Venerable Bede, Abbo of Fleury, Hyginus, and others and was written in Durham by a number of scribes during the second quarter of the twelfth century.

Born in about 673, Bede was placed under the care of Benedict Biscop, Abbot of Wearmouth, at the age of seven. A few years later he was sent to the foundation of Jarrow under Abbot…

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Hreða – the goddess of the vernal equinox

Leaves from a Heathen's Book of Shadows

Prunus cerasus LC0133.jpgYes, I know the vernal equinox is dubbed “Ostara” by many, but it’s a bit of a misnomer, as that’s a derived Old High German word for the Christian festival. And if you think there was an Anglo-Saxon/Germanic goddess Eostre, there may not have been. And, in any case, Eostremonth in the old Anglo-Saxon calendar occurred in April, not March. If you’re interested to learn more try this excellent article.

So this is for the real goddess of the spring equinox, whose month – Hreðamonth – is roughly equivalent to modern March (allowing for a lunar calendar).

The seasons turn; I see white flowers:
Those harbingers of longer hours
Of daylight, and without delay
The days stretch forth to pave Her way.

On clear nights She spans the skies;
The constellations are Her eyes.
Her cloak deep indigo within;
Without the barn owl’s feathered skin.

She wards cold winter…

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Kentigern, Serf and the Loch Leven Mystery

Wizard of the North

‘Priory remains on St Serf’s Inch’ Pic: William Starkey Wikimedia Commons licence

Sir Walter Scott, writing in his 1817 novel, ‘Rob Roy‘, describes the first meeting of the novel’s two main characters, Rob Roy and Francis Osbaldistone, in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral; itself one of the finest examples of Scottish Gothic architecture, built between the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, to have survived the Reformation. One of the primary casualties of that Reformation, in the region of Strathclyde at least, was the Shrine of St. Kentigern, the first recorded Bishop of the ancient North British Kingdom of Alclud; whose dynasty was closely linked to that of Dark Age Rheged in the south; a kingdom which stretched from Cumbria and the Scottish Borders in the north, right the way down to South Lancashire at its southernmost proximity. Before the foundation of the See of Strathclyde, the Kingdom of…

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The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell

The Digital Gallery Blog

In early April I purchased The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. I knew within the fist few pages I would be reading the entire Saxon Tales series. I went through the first three in a short time. The series inspired me to do some historical research in to 9th century Britain and Alfred the Great’s struggle with the Danes.

Each book has a “Place Name” guide listing the ancient place name next to the modern. It sure makes the story easier to follow. I was thrilled to find a custom Google Map with place markers for all the place names in the series.

The books also end with an “historical notes” section that discusses some of the actual historical characters featured in the book. He explains which events mentioned in the book actually happened and which ones are fiction. Bernard Cornwell seems pretty knowledgeable about history and seems to…

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The Virgin Mary in a 10th Century Anglo-Saxon Poem


Random art Shot: the Virgin Mary (with Unicorn accessory) from The Annunciation with the Unicorn (c. 1480) Warsaw, National Museum

Another older essay (and one of my favorites): an examination of the Virgin Mary in the Anglo Saxon Crist, Advent Lyric IX, lines 275-347. Abstracted:   The Advent Lyric’s Virgin offers a unique vision of Christ’s mother. Conventional wisdom in the early Church held the Virgin Mary in esteem for her purity, maternity, mercy, and, above all, her passivity in conforming to God’s will, and the Old English Advent Lyrics celebrates each of these characteristics; in the early lyrics she is wondered at for her chastity, for which Christ chooses her as a mother; she is conflated with–some might say objectified as–the precious holy city of Jerusalem; and she is presented as a weeping virgin lamenting her betrothed’s doubt over her pregnancy. In each of these, the Virgin illustrates the idealized vision of demure femininity, yet she grows progressively stronger–and…

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Chosen Peoples and the Universal Church in the early Middle Ages

Ecclesiastical History Society

You do not have to delve very far into the historiography of early medieval Christianity to start finding statements that such and such an author thought their people had been selected by God as a new Israel or chosen people. This idea is particularly common in discussions of the Franks and the Anglo-Saxons, but you also find it said on occasion about the Irish, Britons, Visigoths and others. I first came across it when working on Bede, whose Ecclesiastical History of the English People, according to an influential line of interpretation, presented the Anglo-Saxons as a new chosen people. But this made no sense to me.

My research was on Bede’s vast corpus of theology, most of it scriptural commentary, and in that there was absolutely no evidence for such an outlook. In fact, Bede constantly hammered home the point that all peoples spread throughout the world had been…

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Boars of battle: The wild boar in the early Middle Ages

Thijs Porck

During the Middle Ages, the wild boar was admired and feared for its courage and ferocity. This blogpost calls attention to this warrior among beasts and, in particular, to its presence on various helmets from Anglo-Saxon England.

The boar as a warrior

blog-boar00 Boars in Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16, Folio 45v; Morgan Library, MS M.81, Folio 36v; Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25, Folio 20r (source)

As a symbol of courage, the boar enjoyed great popularity throughout the Middle Ages. In his biography of Alfred the Great (d. 899), for instance, the monk Asser described how Alfred led his people against the Vikings as ‘a wild boar’:

… the king [Æthelred, Alfred’s brother] still continued a long time in prayer, and the heathen, prepared for battle, had hastened to the field. Then Alfred, though only second in command, could no longer support the advance of the enemy, unless he…

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God in My Sister and Brother: the “Soul Friends” of Early Celtic Christianity

Mining for Gold

St Finnian teaching, represented in stained glass at Clonard, Ireland

From the late 5th to the 7th centuries, a powerful renewal took place in the churches of Britain. From their coastal bases in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, courageous evangelists known today as the Celtic Christian missionaries planted churches and communities around the British Isles.

From the biographies of these pioneers we quickly see what importance they gave to deep relationships. Each brother or sister was to have an anamchara, or “soul friend”, who would be for them a blend of mentor, spiritual director and close friend.

The abbess Brigid (died 525) said that “a person without an anamchara is like a body without a head” – lacking true sight and sense. By their norms, a soul friend is a person who will allow me to tell the whole truth about myself, and to encourage me to seek…

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