Week 18 – Carolingian Renaissance & Christianity in England

1) What was the Carolingian Renaissance, and why was it significant?

As many of you probably already know, renaissance means rebirth. People rediscovered old things and made something new out of them.

Aim of this particular renaissance was to restore a civilization like ancient Rome had, but with Christian emphasis. Charlemagne seeks out great artists, builders and writers in cities he has visited. Alcuin of York, a key adviser to Charlemagne, becomes abbot of Tours after eight years at the palace school. He gets monks to make more accurate translations of the Vulgater, the Latin Fathers and the Latin classics.

In 787, Charlemagne issued bishops and abbots a letter on education; every cathedral and monastery was to establish a school at which both clergy and laity could learn reading and writing. He also imports teachers from Ireland, Britain and Italy. These cathedrals would later develop into early European universities.

Another very important thing about this renaissance is the “Carolingian miniscule”, which changed the rules of writing. Before, writings were in all capital letters with no punctuation and no spaces. The Carolingian miniscule fixed this and made the system we are using up to this day: they changed the use of capital letters, punctuations, added spaces… This made it easier to both write and read.

2) Describe the process by which Christianity was spread in England.

Christianity introduced in England in the 3rd century, only little by little. In the early 4th century, Roman troops are forced to leave England, leaving England with no defence. This leads to England being occupied by many different other people; the most important: the Angles and the Saxons. (The Angles gave England its name – Angle land = England) Some English people escape, but for the most part, England is now Anglo-Saxon. By 590, we have pope Gregory the Great keen on converting the Anglo-Saxons. He sends a group of Benedictine monks over there, lead by Augustine of Canterbury. Augustine spoke to king Ethelbert of Kent, who was very sympathetic (he himself has a Catholic wife and later in 597 converts, too). The Benedictine monks have a lot of successes, however something goes wrong and half of the kingdom is Christian, half pagan and there are a lot of difficulties.

There are pope Gregory’s people coming from south and also Irish missionaries coming from the north. Each group of people teaching their version of Christianity. This will be all solved when the two of these groups meet; there is going to be a meeting, where the two groups are discussing which dating will England be using, since Irish and Roman Christianity both have different dating.

The Romans eventually win and start spreading their faith all over England.

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