Textual Representations of Almsgiving in Late Anglo-Saxon England
PhD Dissertation, University of York, 2010
Abstract: This thesis is a study of the textual representations of almsgiving in the homiletic and documentary sources of late Anglo-Saxon England. Almsgiving, a fundamental part of lay Christian devotional practice, has been primarily ignored by scholars as a subject for study in its own right, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon period. The aim of this thesis is to assess the textual references to almsgiving in the homilies, law codes, wills and charters of the tenth and eleventh centuries in order to determine first, how almsgiving was conceptualised by ecclesiastical authorities, and second, how almsgiving by the laity was understood to function in society. It examines the interdependence of alms-givers and alms-receivers, shedding light on the complementary relationship between rich and poor in society. It also utilises the anthropological concepts of reciprocal gift-exchange and secular display of wealth in order to contextualise the Anglo-Saxon sources within a wider cultural milieu. In doing so, this thesis demonstrates not only that almsgiving played a vital part in lay devotional practice, but also that references to almsgiving embedded in the documentary sources reflected a wide network of social practices and interactions. This in turn indicates the central social significance of almsgiving in late Anglo-Saxon England, and has important implications for the understanding of early medieval Christian piety.