The Anglo-Saxons are arguably the most fascinating culture of medieval Europe – a remarkable and unique blending of Germanic, Latin, and Celtic traditions. Their art, literature, architecture, and history are intrinsically interesting for their own sake. But a thorough understanding of the Anglo-Saxons also helps provide a deeper understanding of our current cultural situation. Anglo-Saxon influences can be traced well beyond the middle ages to such diverse currents as the writings of Protestant Reformation polemicists, the appreciative musings of Thomas Jefferson (who wanted to put the Anglo-Saxon warriors Hengest and Horsa on the Great Seal), various Victorian appropriations, and even J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastical and nostalgic re-imaginations.
This sojourn examines exactly who the Anglo-Saxons were by exploring their astounding historic, artistic, and literary legacy in the land they ruled for over 500 years. The endeavor takes us to some of the most astounding archeological and historical sites in the British Isles: scarred battlefields, sacred locations, and city ruins, each of which reveals another layer of the Anglo Saxon legacy and its continuing relevance. Along the way, Professor Michael Drout illuminates the Anglo-Saxon legacy through daily lectures, talks, and discussions. In particular, he helps us to explore the literary legacy left by the Anglo-Saxons often employing his ability to speak both Old and Middle English to help us better understand the Anglo-Saxon texts.
We begin in the North, at Durham, where we examine the immense contributions of the pious Anglo-Saxon holy men St. Cuthbert and St. Oswald, as well as Venerable Bede, the historian and chronicler of Cuthbert. Here we tour the well-preserved Norman Cathedral, which houses the remains of St. Cuthbert, patron saint of Northumbria and early seventh-century bishop of Lindisfarne. The Cathedral also contains the tomb of Bede, a collection of Anglo-Saxon carved stones, and a copy of the Lindisfarne Gospels. A day-long excursion takes us to the sacred site of Holy Island, the location where those remarkable manuscripts were produced in a unique hybrid style formed from a blend of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon elements.
Mimicking ancient religious pilgrimages, we visit a number of sacred sites as we journey down the east coast of England, passing some of the most breathtaking scenery in Britain. Whitby Abbey, an immense, monolithic ruin positioned on the edge of a cliff overlooking the North Sea was the site of the historic Synod of Whitby in 664 chronicled by Bede. Ely Cathedral, built after the Norman Conquest, contains many relics of the original Anglo-Saxon cathedral. Similarly, Canterbury Cathedral, site of the murder of Thomas Becket, also contains a rich Anglo-Saxon history underneath the floor of the Norman structure. During our tour of the Cathedral we learn how continuing excavations reveal the original Saxon structure and underlying Roman road.
Finally, no examination of the Anglo-Saxons would be complete without exploring their significant military endeavors. Near Lindisfarne, we explore Segedumum Roman Fort, the best-excavated fort along Hadrian’s Wall, constructed after Emperor Hadrian in AD 122 ordered a barrier built across Britain to defend the Romans from the Northern Barbarians. Such encounters between the north and south are well-researched thanks to the hoards of equipment found in burial sites such as Sutton Hoo ship burial, where we see helmets, swords, spears, jewelry, and other grave artifacts. We also visit the battlefield at Maldon which is immensely important in the study of Anglo-Saxon history. While the battle ended in defeat, Maldon became the inspiration for a one of the most-celebrated poems in Old English Literature and a battle cry which inspired Anglo-Saxon warriors for decades that followed.