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Bringers of Light: The Christianisation of Early Medieval Germany under the Carolingians

February 15, 2016 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Portrait image of John-Henry Clay standing in front of a map
Monday Seminar

John-Henry Clay

Solmsen Fellow (2015-2016)

History, Durham University


Europe today is often described as ‘Christian’, at least in the cultural sense. But how did it get to be this way? Was the slow tide of Christianity that swamped indigenous European paganism ultimately irresistible, as medieval sources seem to present it? A starting premise of this talk is that the very notion of a Christian/pagan dichotomy is problematic. Medieval people had conflicting ideas about what ‘proper’ Christianity involved – and, just as important, what it didn’t involve. Christianity could take many different forms, especially when it became a new ingredient in old political conflicts. In this paper, I will examine one especially fraught conflict in eighth-century Europe, and use a careful interdisciplinary approach to reveal the deep complexities and ambiguities of religious conversion. What was it to be ‘Christian’ in this context, and who got to define the term?


John-Henry Clay is a Lecturer in Medieval History at Durham University (UK). There, his teaching focuses on the history of western Europe from the end of the Roman empire to 1000 AD. His particular interests include the end of Roman Gaul, the origins of monasticism and Europe’s conversion to Christianity. His first monograph, In the Shadow of Death: Saint Boniface and the Conversion of Hessia, 721-754 (Brepols, 2010) drew together history, archaeology, and landscape studies in a detailed exploration of an early medieval missionary community in Hessia, and he has published numerous articles and book chapters in related areas. A secondary interest is the relationship between academic history and the creative imagination, especially with respect to wider public engagement and education, which has led to two published historical novels: The Lion and the Lamb (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013) and At the Ruin of the World (Hodder & Stoughton, 2015). He is at work on a project entitled “Bringers of Light: The Christianisation of Early Medieval Germany under the Carolingians.”


February 15, 2016
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States