Bede conversion of King Edwin and the

Bede was trying to create a common
identity and the notion of the ‘same race’ so you could argue that this extract
is presenting the ‘common idenitity’ as Christianity. It is important to understand that the
knowledge of this period is one which has been presented through clerics and
monks like St Bede. When examining the extract presented by Bede it is vital to
understand the key issues that arise from the document itself. The presentation
of ‘religion’ throughout this extract affects our understanding as King Edwin
was said to have been a pagan and ‘he remained a devout one for a great portion
of his life’. 1This
holds signifance as the spread of Christianity throughout Britain led many in
believing that Christianity would answer questions that were ‘unknown’. The
source itself examines King Edwin’s conversion to Christianity. However, it can
be argued that even though Bede’s extract signifies the spread of Christianity
is it questionable as to the extent at which people ‘remained’ Christian as it
was said that many reverted back to ‘paganism’. Bede’s document allows us to
understand the importance of ‘religion’ in particular the spread of
Christianity, as well as surfacing key problems like ‘kingship’. The
conversion shows links to the ‘top-down’ model and how the ‘ruler used types of
power to bring the conversion onto people’ 2this
is reflected through King Edwin in the Bede extract as he used his ‘power’ to
ultimately lead the conversion of the kingdom of Northumbria.

The extract allows you to recognize the stages that had led
to the conversion of King Edwin and the kingdom of Northumbria towards
Christianity. The focal point of Bede’s extract begins with the narrative on
the meeting with the council. In which King Edwin had previously witnessed a
vision whereby the figure shadowed and could be argued to have been Pauilnus from
this they had decided for a ‘new doctrine’ and ‘new worship’. A counter
argument from another source has argued that within the extract Paulinus of
York (missionary) had a lot of input in the conversion of King Edwin. Collins
(1991) states ‘Paulinius had accompanied the queen to Northumbria and began the
conversion of the king’s followers’3,
however, this contrasts with the extract as Bede presents Edwin to have brought
about the conversion. It can therefore be argued that Paulinus’s input
ultimately led to the spread and conversion of the Northumbrians as well as the
King. Bede has portrayed this an extract which unveils the spread of as well as
getting rid of previous pagan beliefs. The common questions that are raised
from this extract is that even though there was a spread of Christianity much
of the religious beliefs was resistance from pagans and many of which had
reverted back to paganism after the conversion of King Edwin. Many historians
including Barrow (2011) argued that, ‘Ray Page has attacked Bede’s reliability
as a source for Anglo-Saxon paganism’ 4
and Jennings (2008) makes the point that Bede was a ‘Christian monk with a
political viewpoint, especially as regarding the lineage and legitimacy of his
current royal dynasty and culture’.5

Bede’s extract has a number of reoccurring themes some of
which include the importance of religion and kingship during the Middle Ages. Rollason
(2012) states that ‘the clear implication is that their power, or at least
their military success was a grant of God’.The source portrays Bede’s views on
Edwin’s Kingship as one which had been given by God as well as one which
included his authoritative role as ‘King’. The importance of religion is
highlighted throughout as ‘Bede’s conscious use of biblical parallels and
religious symbolism in the conversion accounts’ 6which
signify the deeper meanings within the source. Bede’s ending of the extract
reinforces the theme of ‘religion’ with the reference of ‘Casting into it a
spear’. The (Longinus) Roman solider was said to have ‘pierced Jesus in his
side with a lance’ 7
this was significant as Coifi was echoing the action of the Roman soilder and
the way in which Coifi had pierced the shrine it was a way of allowing people
into the Christian faith and he had ultimately done the same for the
Northumbrians.         

The focus on historical debate
amongst historians focused on the extent at which Bede’s source of the Ecclesiastical
History of the English people highlighted the spread of Christianity. Stafford
2012 claims that ‘Bede knew Christianity was displaced paganism as the official
religion throughout these kingdoms’  8the
extract reflects this belief as previous pagan ‘idols’, ‘alters’ and ‘temples’
all which represent a religious purpose are said to have been destroyed with
Christianity replacing previous practises. The development of identity for the
English was formed by Bede as he created a common identity which can be argued
as ‘Christianity’. When understanding the spread of Christianity during the
middle ages it is evidently clear by Collins (1991) who states that ‘Anglo
Saxons kingdoms and all their inhabitants were pagan until the arrival of the
mission to Kent’ 9 suggesting that previously paganism
had been dominant, however this soon changed. Barrow (2011) argues that they’
tended to concentrate on Bede’s Christian message’ 10and
the extract allows us to understand Bede’s portrayal of the spread of Christianity
amongst the Northumbrian and King Edwin as well as enhancing the impact through
his use to language as he ends the source with ‘rejoicing in the knowledge of
the worship of the true God’ suggesting the recognition of Christianity as well
as signifying the importance of King Edwin’s conversion and the impact amongst
the kingdom.

The extract of Bede allows us to
summarise the extract as well as understand the spread of Christianity amongst
the kingdom within England. Bede’s extract enables us to understand the
important figures who played a significant role within the conversion of King
Edwin and the Northumbrians. The questions which are raised by this extract are
the extent at which the conversion to Christianity was regarded as a ‘powerful
conversion’ as after the death of King Edwin many of the people were said to
have reverted back to paganism. This further questions whether the conversion
could be considered as a ‘forced conversion’. Lastly, the understanding in
which we gain from monks like Bede are questionable in understanding the
‘truth’ of this event as of these monks write from a Christian perspective
which could be argued to affect the overall source.

1 Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. New York:
Pennsylvania State UP, 1991.

2 Rollason, D. (2012). Early Medieval Europe 300-1050. Retrieved from https://www-dawsonera-com.libaccess.hud.ac.uk/readonline/9781408251232 pg.232

 

3 Collins, R. (1991). Early medieval Europe
300-1000. Basingstoke: Macmillan Education.pg.170

4 Barrow, J. (2011). A Re-Examination of Bede’s
Ecclesiastical History, II, Chapter 13. The Journal of Ecclesiastical
History. How Coifi Pierced Christ’s Side, 62 (4),
693-706. doi: 10.1017/S0022046911001631.pg.2

5 Jennings, P. (2008). Aspects of Anglo-Saxon
Paganism. Retrieved from
http://www.tha-engliscan-gesithas.org.uk/archives/aspects-of-anglo-saxon-paganism.

6 Barrow,
J. (2011). A Re-Examination of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, II, Chapter 13.
The Journal of Ecclesiastical History. How Coifi Pierced Christ’s Side, 62 (4),
693-706. doi: 10.1017/S0022046911001631.pg.2

7 Wikipedia. (2017). Longinus. Retrieved from
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longinus.

8 Stafford, P. (2012). A companion to the early
Middle Ages: Britain and Ireland c.500-1100. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.pg.148

9 Collins, R. (1991). Early medieval Europe
300-1000. Basingstoke: Macmillan Education.pg.169

10 Barrow, J. (2011). A Re-Examination of Bede’s
Ecclesiastical History, II, Chapter 13. The Journal of Ecclesiastical
History. How Coifi Pierced Christ’s Side, 62 (4),
693-706. doi: 10.1017/S0022046911001631.pg.1