Trees were of fundamental importance in Anglo-Saxon material culture – but they were also a powerful presence in Anglo-Saxon religion before and after the introduction of Christianity. Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England shows that they remained prominent in early English Christianity, and indeed that they may have played a crucial role in mediating the transition between ancient beliefs and the new faith. It argues that certain characteristics of sacred trees in England can be determined from insular contexts alone, independent of comparative evidence from culturally related peoples. This nevertheless suggests the existence of traditions comparable to those found in Scandinavia and Germany. Tree symbolism helped early English Christians to understand how the beliefs of their ancestors about trees, posts, and pillars paralleled the appearance of similar objects in the Old Testament. In this way, the religious symbols of their forebears were aligned with precursors to the cross in Scripture. Literary evidence from England and Scandinavia similarly indicates a shared tradition of associations between the bodies of humans, trees, and other plant-life. Though potentially ancient, these ideas flourished amongst the abundance of vegetative symbolism found in the Christian tradition.
"A solid contribution to early medieval scholarship, and a notably original one."
– Early Medieval Europe
"One of its great strengths is that it takes in a great variety of data – archaeological, art historical, linguistic and literary [...] What makes this book distinctive is the focus on the possible religious roles of trees before and after the conversion to Christianity."
– Medieval Archaeology
"This beautifully illustrated volume offers a sound overview."
– Nottingham Medieval Studies
"Bintley demonstrates the malleability and indomitability of tree lore and, in doing so, provides a deeper, more rounded insight into the changing Anglo-Saxon cultures and systems of belief."
– Time & Mind
"Bintley has produced an intriguing, well-rounded disquisition into a fascinating subject."
"Presents a sympathetic approach to the ways in which Christianity dealt with heathen tree worship by absorbing and reinterpreting its tree symbolism [...] [M]akes a most valuable addition to the existing literature."
2 Holy Trees and Inculturation in the Conversion Period
3 Anglo-Saxon Holy Trees and their Northern European Counterparts
4 Rewriting the Holy Rood in Anglo-Saxon Spiritual History
5 The Human Forest: People and Trees in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia
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Michael D.J. Bintley is Senior Lecturer in Medieval English Literature at Christ Church University, Canterbury.