Anglo-Saxon England

Illustrations of damnation in late Anglo-Saxon manuscripts

Sarah Semple a1
a1 Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford

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‘Many tribulations and hardships shall arise in this world before its end, and they are heralds of the eternal perdition to evil men, who shall afterwards suffer eternally in the black hell for their sins.’ These words, composed by Ælfric in the last decade of the tenth century, reflect a preoccupation in the late Anglo-Saxon Church with perdition and the infernal punishments that awaited sinners and heathens. Perhaps stimulated in part by anxiety at the approach of the millennium, both Ælfric and Wulfstan (archbishop of York, 1002–23) show an overt concern with the continuation of paganism and the evil deeds of mankind in their sermons and homilies. Their works stress the terrible judgement that awaited sinners and heathens and the infernal torment to follow. The Viking raids and incursions, during the late eighth to ninth and late tenth centuries, partially inspired the great anxiety apparent in the late Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical leadership. Not only were these events perceived as divine punishment for a lack of religious devotion and fervour in the English people, but the arrival of Scandinavian settlers in the late ninth century may have reintroduced pagan practice and belief into England.