Thursday, June 8, 2023

Winters in the World: A Journey through the Anglo-Saxon Year by Eleanor Parker

Winters in the World is a beautifully observed journey through the cycle of the year in Anglo-Saxon England, exploring the festivals, customs, and traditions linked to the different seasons.

Drawing on a wide variety of source material, including poetry, histories, and religious literature, Eleanor Parker investigates how Anglo-Saxons felt about the annual passing of the seasons and the profound relationship they saw between human life and the rhythms of nature. 

It celebrates some of the finest treasures of medieval literature and provides an imaginative connection to the Anglo-Saxon world.

I expected this book to be interesting. I didn't expect to fall in love with it. Eleanor Parker weaves a tapestry of poetry, literature, history, religion, and language to go through the seasons and practices of the Anglo-Saxon year. The result is a masterpiece that gave me a real sense of connection with the people of long ago.

I was surprised to see how much I resonated with the Anglo-Saxon poetry. I've read Beowulf and really enjoyed it. The poems featured in this book were beautiful, nuanced, and had a depth of meaning. They spoke to me in a way that a lot of other poetry doesn't. I'll be picking up an anthology of them for future reading.

I also was surprised to see how integral the Catholic faith was in the Anglo-Saxon world. I'd expected to read a fair amount about pagan rituals but the author made it clear that this was a Christian world with only a glancing relationship with pagan religions. The way the faith was practiced then was, of course, different than now but there was enough in common to make me feel a connection with those times. In fact, I now am interested in getting my hands on some of Aelfric's homilies, many excerpts of which were featured in this book.

Most of all I felt a deep appreciation with the sacred cycle of time both then and now. I really love the Catholic liturgical cycles and how they connect with the natural world. This book brings that to the fore since the Anglo-Saxons were so much more in tune with nature and the seasons.

All this combines to make a work of rare value. It will be interesting to the history or literature buff. For me, I found my prayer life took on new focus and depth. As I went through my day or the recent liturgical seasons, I thought of those long-ago Catholic Anglo-Saxons doing the same thing, taking it seriously, knowing that prayer matters, that saints will rush to your aid, that God gives us all that is good in life beginning with the riches of the natural world around us.

Highly recommended.

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