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Anglo Saxon Religion

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The Heathens

Heathen God ThorThe Heathens worshipped their gods and goddesses for thousands of years before the coming of Christianity. Their gods and goddesses were part of, and ruled practically every aspect of their lives, such as birth, life, death, harvest, earth, sky, love, fertility, nature, weather and much more. In the most primitive of times these deities were probably worshipped as natural phenomena, but over the centuries each phenomena developed it's own image and character that, is probably best illustrated in later Norse mythology.

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Christianity

St. AugustineThe decline of Anglo Saxon heathonism began around 597 c.e. (common era) with the arrival of the Roman missionary St Augustine on the Isle of Thanet in Kent. The missionaries were sent out on the orders of Pope Gregory, legend says that Pope Gregory, before becoming Pope, noticed some fair-haired boys in a slave market in Rome, and enquired where they were from. He was told that they were Angles and also Heathen, to which (Pope) Gregory replied, "Non Angli, sed angeli", "Not Angles but angels", and on becoming Pope he despatched the missionaries to convert the Anglo-Saxons. The first king in England to greet St Augustine was Ethelbert of Kent.

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Monastic Life

The monastic life of the seventh and eighth centuries was lead in double houses which consisted of both a monastery and a nunnery. Men and women were equal in conversion and learning; in Aldhelm's words:

. . . readers, man and woman, open the sacred volumes.

The Anglo-Saxon Monk Byrhtferth.  A scene from the Bayeau Tapestry.They wrote letters to each other and composed, copied and translated manuscripts in scriptoria and libraries. For instance, Bishop Boniface exchanged letters with an abbess called Leoba while he was on a mission in Germany. Their letters would often concern practical problems, such as the supply of books and clothing, the building of churches, etc. The advice of women like Leoba was sought and appreciated, and the fees for hurting a nun were higher than those for ordinary women. Poverty and chastity were expected from both monks and nuns.

By the ninth century, the enthusiasm of the earlier ages was gone; the church was in decline, partly because of frequent Viking raids. In the tenth century, monastic reform did away with the double houses and monks started to live like noblemen, often getting involved in power-politics. This was the age of equality in ignorance, not anymore in learning.

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