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Skulduggery, power struggles and politics, The Private Lives of the Saints offers an original and fascinating re-examination of life in Anglo-Saxon England. Taking them from their heavenly status to the human level, Oxford art historian and BBC presenter Dr Janina Ramirez explores the real lives of over a dozen seminal saints. This landmark book provides a unique and captiv Skulduggery, power struggles and politics, The Private Lives of the Saints offers an original and fascinating re-examination of life in Anglo-Saxon England. Taking them from their heavenly status to the human level, Oxford art historian and BBC presenter Dr Janina Ramirez explores the real lives of over a dozen seminal saints. This landmark book provides a unique and captivating lens through which to explore the rich history of the Dark Ages.


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Skulduggery, power struggles and politics, The Private Lives of the Saints offers an original and fascinating re-examination of life in Anglo-Saxon England. Taking them from their heavenly status to the human level, Oxford art historian and BBC presenter Dr Janina Ramirez explores the real lives of over a dozen seminal saints. This landmark book provides a unique and captiv Skulduggery, power struggles and politics, The Private Lives of the Saints offers an original and fascinating re-examination of life in Anglo-Saxon England. Taking them from their heavenly status to the human level, Oxford art historian and BBC presenter Dr Janina Ramirez explores the real lives of over a dozen seminal saints. This landmark book provides a unique and captivating lens through which to explore the rich history of the Dark Ages.

30 review for The Private Lives of the Saints: Power, Passion and Politics in Anglo-Saxon England

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    An enticing and cosy little book, but not altogether convincing. It is a saintly version of In search of the dark ages, Songs of Praise on the road through history, tenish saints as spotlights to illuminate(view spoiler)[ and there is a fair bit about illumination and the creation of manuscripts generally in the book (hide spoiler)] , if you can pardon the pun, the way through the dark ages. It is, perhaps predictably for a British book, an insular work visiting Skellig Michael, Iona, Lindesfarne An enticing and cosy little book, but not altogether convincing. It is a saintly version of In search of the dark ages, Songs of Praise on the road through history, tenish saints as spotlights to illuminate(view spoiler)[ and there is a fair bit about illumination and the creation of manuscripts generally in the book (hide spoiler)] , if you can pardon the pun, the way through the dark ages. It is, perhaps predictably for a British book, an insular work visiting Skellig Michael, Iona, Lindesfarne, but not Craggy Island, and overall oddly limited to the Atlantic islands of Britain and Ireland as a recipient area with the rest of the world as a mobile zone migrating people, ideas, and material goods into the static British zone. The ten headline saints considered are Alban, Brigid, Patrick, Gregory, Columba, Cuthbert, Hilda, Wilfred, Bede, and Alfred, king of Wessex. The sharp eyed may have spotted that two of those, Bede and Alfred have never been considered saints, and Alban is pre-Anglo-Saxon while three others were outside the Anglo-Saxon zone which makes a saint shaped hole in the sub-title. As for the private lives of the saints, those are mostly unknowable though mostly they appear a fierce and determined bunch austere and powerful by turns, what Ramirez is doing, explicitly is creating 'narratives'. Saints lives by their nature are always narratives in any case, they conform mostly to accepted patterns of holy behaviour and illustrate the nature of the sanctified person's relationship to divine power, Ramierz's narratives then are counter narratives aiming to put the saint in their context, though since in some cases we know about these people only through hagiography or writings like those of Bede which are also presenting a distinctive narrative, the results could be gloriously circular. Ramierz avoids getting caught in such vicious circles of recursive saintliness by not getting too close and pointing out to some extent the meta-narrative of the function of the saint. One of those narratives is about conversion and adaptation for example Ramirez mentions that one of the miracles that saint Brigid performed was to carry out an abortion on one of her hand maidens, but don't worry, theologically the consequences are limited because Brigid was most probably a repurposed pre-Christian goddess, and her pagan cult seems to have been fairly painlessly converted in to a Christian one with a continuity of the same cult practises, devotion to a trinity, maintenance of a sacred fire, (largely) celibate hand maidens, holy sites and so on. Another version of this repurposing was Cuthbert rebuking a pair of ravens for trashing a thatched roof, the chastened birds apologised by bringing a gift of lard to the saint, but the point was that ravens were holy to Woden, rebuking his birds and their submission to him showed the power of the holy man over the powers of the old faith. Another narrative is the Holy person fleeing from the world and secular concerns to increasingly remote locations, but that this retreat is also a charge into spiritual action, isolated islands in habited by rich populations of birds are the places were devils dwell and the saint can face them down and demonstrate their power, power which can then be used as Columba did to tell loch dwelling monsters not to bite Picts or Scots any more (this taken sometimes as the first mention of a Loch Ness Monster). Bede of course is a meta narrative in himself and I imagine there are books to devoted to what he wanted to say and how he expressed himself, indeed it is impossible to see a broad slice of Early English history without Bede's spectacles on and the best one can hope to do is accept that from the title onwards in Ecclesiastical History of the English Bede is creating the narrative that he wanted to be told about English history as effectively as the editor of a tabloid newspaper. With King Alfred there is a dramatic change and the growth of the sanctity of the west Saxon royal house and the development of sainthood as a career move, an outstanding example the below mentioned Edith, illegitimate daughter of King Edgar, at that point of time the Papacy hadn't won control over the process of canonisation, instead local cults developed or were fostered by those who had secular or ecclesiastical power. This began with the development of the cult of King Edmund (king of East Anglia, accidental founder of the town of Bury St.Edmunds) whose only possible holy act was doing a passable, but fatal, impersonation of Saint Sebastian. Ramirez really sinks her teeth into the discussion of the artistic remains of the period, most powerfully I felt over carved stone crosses. She picks up on details like changing scripts - from runes to Latin, and complex visual scenes and subtle allusions, some unintentionally funny - vines to show that Christ is the true vine - the false vine was Greek God Dionysius - a God probably about as much known round and about eighth century Northumbria as grape vines and their fresh fruits. The problem with her argument I felt was precisely that, stone crosses are public art, the more subtle and complex the visual presentation the less explicable and understandable it is for ye olde Churl and his Kvinna (view spoiler)[ assuming she came from the Faroe islands (hide spoiler)] who presumably were the intended audience, it seemed from what she said that one would need to be at least as learned and educated as the good Doctor Janina Ramirez herself to understand and interpret such carved crosses, this strikes me as slightly problematic, although an interesting puzzle. But this tendency was not unique to stone crosses it is also true of the Franks casket which combines Christian and pagan scenes using Latin and runes. Then again maybe in ye olde Mead Hall the monks and stone carvers did sit around discussing God and symbolism and it is narrow minded of to imagine that only through book-learning and seminars that one can get to grips with such things. Ramirez acknowledges that she draws strongly on Robert Bartlett's Why can the Dead do such great things? which I haven't read, but that points to another meta-narrative; the role of the holy person in a society and their power particularly in the Christian tradition to remain powerful even after death. A humorous example of this is King Oswald of Northumbria, who was martyred and then chopped into pieces in battle against the pagan king Penda of Mercia in 642 AD. After death however it turned out that Saint Oswald had a huge number of heads, one was buried with Saint Cuthbert(view spoiler)[ maybe to keep him company in the grave (hide spoiler)] , but he apparently also has other heads in the Netherlands, in Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland (perhaps he was defeated in battle because he couldn't make up his mind - a complex process with so many heads) I imagine him standing like the Hydra before Penda, an example of two heads being better than one not always being true. If one was the Abbot or Abbess whose unworthy church hosted such a noble saint the multiplicity of heads itself was a proof of sanctity, the saint using his power out of love for the faithful to replicate himself to be more widely available to help out Christians wheresoever they may be. The whole business of narratives is interesting, partly one sees a link with Ramirez's work on television, the narrative as a storytelling device to entrap the viewer. Partly also perhaps a certain pessimism or realism the past can not be known objectively, there is no truth only interpretation, all we can study are the stories we have told.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Dr Janina Ramirez, now quite well acknowledged as a Television historian and broadcaster over the past decade or so, crafts a history of the most well known Anglo-Saxon and Celtic Christian Saints, starting from the fourth century right up until the eleventh century AD, in a period commonly known as the 'Dark Ages', due to a lack of written records of this time, a confusing era of British history with very limited sources (apart from the venerable Bede, and without him we would have less source Dr Janina Ramirez, now quite well acknowledged as a Television historian and broadcaster over the past decade or so, crafts a history of the most well known Anglo-Saxon and Celtic Christian Saints, starting from the fourth century right up until the eleventh century AD, in a period commonly known as the 'Dark Ages', due to a lack of written records of this time, a confusing era of British history with very limited sources (apart from the venerable Bede, and without him we would have less sources to go on). Starting with Saint Alban and his martyrdom (being an early Christian at a time when Rome was still reveling in its Pagan debauchery), the history covers the main pivotal religious events and saintly characters over the next 600 years or so, or until the Norman Conquest of 1066 starts to suppress the cults that had grown up with these Saints, in England at the very least. Dr Ramirez analyses ten main characters during this period who became prominent religious figures in these Isles; Alban sacrificing himself for his Christian beliefs in place of another condemned person; Brigid from Ireland, who apparently was a Pagan figure before Celtic Christianity claimed her; Patrick, captured as a slave and sent to Ireland but became incredibly pious and a national saint in Ireland after a epiphany he is said to have experienced; Pope Gregory the Great - for sending Augustine and 12 followers to Britain on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons away from their entrenched Pagan beliefs - it worked gradually; Saint Columba from the isle of Iona off the Scottish coast - another Celtic Christian; Cuthbert - of Lindisfarne fame (split between Celtic and Roman Christianity - an interesting character); Hilda of Whitby Abbey and the Synod of Whitby fame (there were more Women involved in religious matters with authority during this time than ever since); Saint Wilfred; Bede the chronologist (not canonised, but ended up becoming the venerable Bede), whose book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, is a primary source; King Alfred - the first Royal Saint and finally brief sections on his sons and really ends with Edward the Confessor prior to the Norman conquest. The book, whilst covering the characters mentioned and what made them saints, also paints around them and fleshes out with what was happening socially during this period. Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine and a group of followers to Britain in 597AD, and Canterbury is the main place where Roman Christianity was adopted, this after near 200 years since the Romans left these isles to defend themselves from barbarians, and the Angles, Saxons and Jutes settled here with their Pagan beliefs. So whilst Celtic Christianity was already a 'thing' in Ireland, Wales and parts of Scotland, it was fundamentally Augustine with the backing from Rome who converted the majority of the tribes into some kind of unified belief structure, away from their 'barbaric', tribal ways. It worked, slowly at first, and the main focus of Dr Ramirezs' study concerns what was happening in Northumbria where several of the saints lived and worked. Lindisfarne Monastery and Whitby Abbey play no small role in the spreading of Roman Christianity, at least until 793 AD when the Vikings started to raid and eventually settle in the North, until King Alfred (the first Royal Saint) introduced the Danelaw and military victories for a brief period of time, until King Cnut and eventually the Normans started to rescind and suppress the cults spread around the Anglo-Saxon Saints. It is a good history; the author also briefly covers less well known characters, maybe as a way to fill out some chapters, because as I said, the sources of this period are very very few; we have Bede as I mentioned, some surviving, flowery manuscripts (and religious art is a big thing of these times, all hand painted and written on vellum, it is amazing some of the works still survive today, considering the Viking incursions and the Norman suppression/eradication of Anglo-Saxon stone churches), a lot of archeological conjecture/discoveries and so on. Nationality also is covered - we are a nation of immigrants which ever country you say your 'proud' to be from. Modern day nationalism is such a fake concept that many politicians fail to recognise or wish to understand. I digress. Great history from a great historian. 4 stars.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Geraldine

    A fascinating book about several saints from Anglo-Saxon times. I've tagged it as 'religion' but it wears its religion very lightly. Really, it's a romp through several hundred years of Anglo-Saxon cultural history using the lives of these saints as a device. Clever approach, because, apart from a very few kings, it's these saints that are the most well known people of that era. And, in a sense, it's all about St Bede (or the Venerable Bede). I'm an atheist and didn't find the religious element j A fascinating book about several saints from Anglo-Saxon times. I've tagged it as 'religion' but it wears its religion very lightly. Really, it's a romp through several hundred years of Anglo-Saxon cultural history using the lives of these saints as a device. Clever approach, because, apart from a very few kings, it's these saints that are the most well known people of that era. And, in a sense, it's all about St Bede (or the Venerable Bede). I'm an atheist and didn't find the religious element jarred at all - well, it did, because I can't help thinking, about hermits, anchorites, and enclosed monks and nuns, what a waste of a life, and the author at one point hints that nowadays we would question their mental stability. Until very recently I have known very little at all about Anglo-Saxons. A Ladybird book about King Alfred, and a rather fleeting mention in Primary School history as the 'gap' between Romans and Normans. but I've read a couple of relevant books recently and seen a TV programme or two, and the so-called Dark Ages are emerging into the light for me. I read it chapter by chapter, interspersed by various fiction, but if I had sat down and read it how I read fiction I'm sure it would have been finished in three evenings. I suppose it counts as 'popular' history. Janina Ramirez appears often on our TV screens and that helps give a high profile to her books. I don't really know where I sit on the intellectual ladder of history 'student'. I have abandoned or suffered academic history books because of their dire prose or their ponderous style. And I've despaired at so-called history books written by posh ladies who read English at Oxbridge and lack the analytical skills to create proper context. So I guess this is about my level, especially for a period about which I know so little. Probably, if you already have a broad knowledge of Anglo-Saxon times, it will be a bit broadbrush. On the other hand, I like history a lot more now that it has moved away from lists of battles and dates. This isn't exactly social history or sociology, and doesn't really examine the lives of the ordinary people, but it really does give a feel of that society.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Duncan Wilson

    It has to be said that Dr Janina Ramirez’s books has a slightly misleading title… but it is fascinating and informative read nonetheless. This book primarily focuses on ten saints spanning between the fourth and tenth centuries and placing them within the context of their environments. Focusing on events that influenced them or that they I turn influenced. It also highlights what a diverse and complex history the British Isles has. As she states in the last chapter: “there is no history of the En It has to be said that Dr Janina Ramirez’s books has a slightly misleading title… but it is fascinating and informative read nonetheless. This book primarily focuses on ten saints spanning between the fourth and tenth centuries and placing them within the context of their environments. Focusing on events that influenced them or that they I turn influenced. It also highlights what a diverse and complex history the British Isles has. As she states in the last chapter: “there is no history of the English, Welsh or Scots, but rather a merging web where different races intermarry, coexist an integrate…our notion of identity are firmly imprinted with concepts of countries, geographical boundaries and religious affiliations, yet the early medieval period can be instructive in terms of eroding the importance of these distinctions.” Highly recommended as it is very accessible look at the Anglo-Saxon world and the people who helped shape it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    An interesting book in places, but vague in others. It would have been helpful to clarify that the author was using 'saint' to refer to those venerated as such by their contemporaries and immediate successors, rather than the (officially canonised) saints we recognise today, at the start of the book rather than the end - starting the chapter on Bede by explaining that he is not generally viewed as a saint gives the appearance that the author has forgotten the topic on which they're writing. There An interesting book in places, but vague in others. It would have been helpful to clarify that the author was using 'saint' to refer to those venerated as such by their contemporaries and immediate successors, rather than the (officially canonised) saints we recognise today, at the start of the book rather than the end - starting the chapter on Bede by explaining that he is not generally viewed as a saint gives the appearance that the author has forgotten the topic on which they're writing. There is also a disturbing authorial and editorial oversight in that the book states Paul/Saul of Tarsus was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity - that such an easily verifiable fact is wrong (he was a Jewish tentmaker who had Roman citizenship) does beg questions about the veracity of the text.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jane Walker

    This is an interesting way of tackling Anglo-Saxon history. Ramirez puts the saints in the cultural and religious context of their time to show the development of Christianity and its influence on politics, the arts and everything else. Very little is known about some of these characters but it doesn't really matter. My one criticism is that the book feels rather padded out in places. This is an interesting way of tackling Anglo-Saxon history. Ramirez puts the saints in the cultural and religious context of their time to show the development of Christianity and its influence on politics, the arts and everything else. Very little is known about some of these characters but it doesn't really matter. My one criticism is that the book feels rather padded out in places.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Koit

    3.5 / 5 It is my innate liking of Anglo-Saxon Britain which makes me rate this at 3.5/5 rather than any particular strength of the book. Indeed, I think that while it is an illuminating look into many people who otherwise do not get a deserved mention in more secular histories, the look into every individual here is quite shallow and generally based on a well-known story or feature. Rarely do we encounter even a conjecture of what their "private" life was like, and even where the author's mention 3.5 / 5 It is my innate liking of Anglo-Saxon Britain which makes me rate this at 3.5/5 rather than any particular strength of the book. Indeed, I think that while it is an illuminating look into many people who otherwise do not get a deserved mention in more secular histories, the look into every individual here is quite shallow and generally based on a well-known story or feature. Rarely do we encounter even a conjecture of what their "private" life was like, and even where the author's mention of "interesting results" is common, these results are communicated down to the reader in a very poor manner. At the same time, the author also draws attention to a lot of topics I have never thought about before and for this, this work is really enjoyable. This connective style is very good for the reader, for whom the 16th century is aligned with the 8th and the various regions of England with their continental equivalents. This comprehensive overview allows for a good general overview of what was going on, even if the details remain in the shade. Overall, I would recommend this, even though it could have been called something else. The treatise here also ponders the meaning of sanctity and that is, always, a topic worth dwelling upon. Originally posted here. 

  8. 5 out of 5

    Red Dog

    A really good book about the Anglo-Saxon period, as told via the frame of the rock stars of their day, the saints. I really enjoyed Ramírez's take on the evidence, and was particularly interested to learn how Bede consigned the raven, as a key supporting figure in Anglo-Saxon pagan folklore, to the dustbin of mythological history with simple flick of his editorial quill when reviewing the bible story of Noah in a translated manuscript. If I have any criticism of the book, it's one that I realise A really good book about the Anglo-Saxon period, as told via the frame of the rock stars of their day, the saints. I really enjoyed Ramírez's take on the evidence, and was particularly interested to learn how Bede consigned the raven, as a key supporting figure in Anglo-Saxon pagan folklore, to the dustbin of mythological history with simple flick of his editorial quill when reviewing the bible story of Noah in a translated manuscript. If I have any criticism of the book, it's one that I realise is specifically particular to me - in terms of the story of St Cuthbert, I actually think his long afterlife as a specifically referenced player in the affairs of his community (i.e. if you dealt with the community of Cuthbert in Lindisfarne and later Durham after Cuthbert's death, contemporary sources saw the bishop they were talking to as a stand-in for Cuthbert himself) is fascinating and could have been explored to some extent in the book. But then the world doesn't revolve around me, and maybe I should write my own bloody book?! ;-) Overall, I recommend this book if you've any interest in history, religion, or just the Anglo-Saxons in general.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tony Summer

    It took me longer than I expected to read this because it is very badly written, in the customary humanities style of today, i.e., too much verbiage, ‘in terms of,’ ‘in the context of,’ poorly constructed sentences, and several clichés on every page. The bad writing is not only a distraction from the content; it often obscures it. Sometimes she expresses herself so poorly that I don’t know what the hell she is trying to say; other times she will enunciate the same thought (often a banality) up t It took me longer than I expected to read this because it is very badly written, in the customary humanities style of today, i.e., too much verbiage, ‘in terms of,’ ‘in the context of,’ poorly constructed sentences, and several clichés on every page. The bad writing is not only a distraction from the content; it often obscures it. Sometimes she expresses herself so poorly that I don’t know what the hell she is trying to say; other times she will enunciate the same thought (often a banality) up to three different ways on the same page. It reminds me of Ernie Wise’s badly written plays (on the Morecambe and Wise Show). It is like some fraud pretending to be a scholar; yet she is a lecturer at Oxford University! It strikes me that she has a similar sort of mind to that of Karl Marx: she is not a poet, but she thinks poetically rather than logically. She reminds me of some contemporary feminists, too, whose contributions to ‘theory’ are more like bad poetry. The book was by turns interesting and boring. I am not sure how much of the boredom was due to the style of writing rather than to the subject-matter. After all, if it takes so many words to say so little, one is bound to start dropping off. The book would be much better if it was a quarter of the length. It is a shame because someone who can write well, who can get clear about things and then explain them clearly, could have made this a very interesting book. As it is, I am disappointed that I paid more than £11 for the damned thing!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Becca Edney

    A good book in principle, about an interesting subject, but unfortunately it was very shallow on detail. I understand that for a lot of people there's not a lot of detail available, but it still felt very much like I was just getting my teeth into the story of one person when the next was introduced. The overall effect was rather unsatisfying. In particular, there were several occasions when a section purported to be about a particular saint, but the majority of it was about other historical figu A good book in principle, about an interesting subject, but unfortunately it was very shallow on detail. I understand that for a lot of people there's not a lot of detail available, but it still felt very much like I was just getting my teeth into the story of one person when the next was introduced. The overall effect was rather unsatisfying. In particular, there were several occasions when a section purported to be about a particular saint, but the majority of it was about other historical figures who were in a similar category for that saint. It felt like the subject matter would have been more accurately represented by either shorter chapters or the chapters being named after categories rather than saints. Also, I was somewhat uncomfortable about the statement that the early Christians were a lot like ISIS. I know Ramirez meant in terms of the intensity of their faith, but... what?

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kieran

    From Alban, beheaded by his fellow Romans, to Edward the Confessor, whose death brought Anglo-Saxon England crashing to an end, this is the story of those people of Anglo-Saxon England who walked the line between earth and heaven. How the saints described were real people, like you or I, who confronted real dilemmas, and had real impact on the lives of others. It is through them that the story of early medieval Britain can be told from a fresh perspective.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Found it really hard going. Didn't hold my attention which is unusual as anything to do with Anglo Saxon history normally does. Seems to wander off the title topic somewhat. Chapters about certain saints would only mention them briefly to begin with & then discuss certain manuscripts or artwork in detail instead. Love her on TV, not so enthusiastic over this book. Found it really hard going. Didn't hold my attention which is unusual as anything to do with Anglo Saxon history normally does. Seems to wander off the title topic somewhat. Chapters about certain saints would only mention them briefly to begin with & then discuss certain manuscripts or artwork in detail instead. Love her on TV, not so enthusiastic over this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Simon Binning

    For me, this book proved to be something of a mixed bag. For a start, its sub-title - Power, Passion and Politics in Anglo-Saxon England - gives a much more accurate description of what the book is actually about. I know that the author is passionate about her subject; I have enjoyed her work on TV. But it is that very passion that hangs rather awkwardly over this book. What it is, is a rather good assessment of the development of the church in England (with nods to the rest of the British Isles For me, this book proved to be something of a mixed bag. For a start, its sub-title - Power, Passion and Politics in Anglo-Saxon England - gives a much more accurate description of what the book is actually about. I know that the author is passionate about her subject; I have enjoyed her work on TV. But it is that very passion that hangs rather awkwardly over this book. What it is, is a rather good assessment of the development of the church in England (with nods to the rest of the British Isles where necessary) and an investigation of the wider society around it. Using the life and times of a dozen saints as the bones of this analysis, she shows how these important figures both guided and were influenced by their times. What it isn't, is anything about the private lives of the saints. At this distance, we know virtually nothing about the real figures behind these saints. Most were used by their adherents and supporters for political or religious purposes within a few years of their death. Hagiography abounded, and what little information we do have is highly suspect. It is an enjoyable read, with much of interest about a little understood (and much misunderstood) period. But it is made somewhat hard-going by an illogical structure and some repetition. It would have really benefitted from the employment of a good editor to sort this out (as well as a proof-reader).

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo

    Dr. Ramirez quotes Balzac at the end of this highly enlightening work, who states that "What a splendid book one could put together by narrating the life and adventure of a word." This book does a wonderful job of beginning a study of the word "saint," I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Ramirez lecture last summer at Oxford(when the world was slightly more normal) where I continued taking graduate courses in Literature and her lecture inspired me to consider combining literature, archeology, and his Dr. Ramirez quotes Balzac at the end of this highly enlightening work, who states that "What a splendid book one could put together by narrating the life and adventure of a word." This book does a wonderful job of beginning a study of the word "saint," I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Ramirez lecture last summer at Oxford(when the world was slightly more normal) where I continued taking graduate courses in Literature and her lecture inspired me to consider combining literature, archeology, and history in the pursuit of Anglo-Saxon studies. Anyway, this book is worth reading and is rather engaging and very accessible. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the fascinating history of England, its leaders, peoples, saints, and monks; as well as its religious past from the 4th century to the 11th.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Terry

    The contents are sadly not much to do with the title or sub title. The chapters start with a very short piece about the saint in question before descending into long rambling over detailed monologues about various items of jewellery, treasure or manuscripts. The author spends much time discussing the Sutton Hoo burial and it suggests it being some form of pagan snub to Christianity. I finished the book but was bored with it half way through and felt it just didn’t deliver on any level. Disappoin The contents are sadly not much to do with the title or sub title. The chapters start with a very short piece about the saint in question before descending into long rambling over detailed monologues about various items of jewellery, treasure or manuscripts. The author spends much time discussing the Sutton Hoo burial and it suggests it being some form of pagan snub to Christianity. I finished the book but was bored with it half way through and felt it just didn’t deliver on any level. Disappointing.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Valour

    Dr J does it again It will be a chilly day in the afterlife, when Dr J writes a book I don't love, and The Private Lives of Saints has maintained that status quo. I did find the book a slow and heavy read, but it was also fascinating and informative and brought to life names of saints I'd been aware of since childhood and illuminated the rise of monastic life in the early mediaeval period. Overall this is a fascinating book, suitable for scholars and not, which touches on an important but often ign Dr J does it again It will be a chilly day in the afterlife, when Dr J writes a book I don't love, and The Private Lives of Saints has maintained that status quo. I did find the book a slow and heavy read, but it was also fascinating and informative and brought to life names of saints I'd been aware of since childhood and illuminated the rise of monastic life in the early mediaeval period. Overall this is a fascinating book, suitable for scholars and not, which touches on an important but often ignored bit of history.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard Olney

    As generally speaking anything about the "Dark Ages" is right up my street, i suppose i was always going to like this book. But i think i enjoyed it more than i thought i was going to. Much more than focusing on the lives of the Saints, it takes the life and times of those individuals as bases to elaborate on the period during which each Saint lived. As i enjoyed it so much i'm going to read it again, the fiction i was going to read next can wait! As generally speaking anything about the "Dark Ages" is right up my street, i suppose i was always going to like this book. But i think i enjoyed it more than i thought i was going to. Much more than focusing on the lives of the Saints, it takes the life and times of those individuals as bases to elaborate on the period during which each Saint lived. As i enjoyed it so much i'm going to read it again, the fiction i was going to read next can wait!

  18. 5 out of 5

    J Grimsey

    A highly interesting and engaging book which avoids the Hagiographic reputations of these Saints without sneering at them. The significance of the history of the time and the characterisation of Bede as Spin Doctor but admired founding father of British written history is very enjoyable. Could modern prejudices mean that St Hilda is especially revered perhaps balancing the down playing of her role for many centuries. I'm not sure. A highly interesting and engaging book which avoids the Hagiographic reputations of these Saints without sneering at them. The significance of the history of the time and the characterisation of Bede as Spin Doctor but admired founding father of British written history is very enjoyable. Could modern prejudices mean that St Hilda is especially revered perhaps balancing the down playing of her role for many centuries. I'm not sure.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    It has taken me a long time to read this book, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t find it fascinating. Engagingly written, Ramirez uses what can be discovered about the actual lives of the saints and explores the context they were living in. I just had an unfortunate tendency to pick it up when I was cosy and all too tempted to nap!!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Helen Birkbeck

    What there is here is interesting enough but, as the author admits, so much about these people is unknown that there are lots of gaps and suppositions. I enjoy watching her on TV so was disappointed by her somewhat sloppy use of grammar and her sentence structure; I sort of expected an Oxford graduate to use 'in terms of' correctly! What there is here is interesting enough but, as the author admits, so much about these people is unknown that there are lots of gaps and suppositions. I enjoy watching her on TV so was disappointed by her somewhat sloppy use of grammar and her sentence structure; I sort of expected an Oxford graduate to use 'in terms of' correctly!

  21. 5 out of 5

    John

    I'm deeply impressed by the author's ability to deduce so much from what appears to be insubstantial information. Until I read this book, I thought a saint was a saint; now I realise there's a lot more to it. I'm deeply impressed by the author's ability to deduce so much from what appears to be insubstantial information. Until I read this book, I thought a saint was a saint; now I realise there's a lot more to it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    Quite interesting The lives (not hagiographies) of prominent saints and nearly saints is an interesting thread to hang an overview of Anglo Saxon society on, and it was educational to view the period from a different angle.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mr. Bernard Bracken

    A wonderful enlightening book Really enjoyed reading this book. It brings to life the real people behind the names and explains how some dubious characters have been named saints.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Riversue

    A really interesting look at this historical period.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lyss Perkins

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tony

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Marion Godden

  29. 4 out of 5

    Russell Short

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bri

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