Woodlands, Trees, and Timber in Anglo-Saxon Culture
with Dr Michael Bintley, (Canterbury Christ Church University)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 25th June  2016.


This study day will offer an interdisciplinary exploration of the various ways in which trees and woodlands made their presence felt in numerous aspects of Anglo-Saxon daily life, ranging from the functional and mundane to the transcendent. In the course of our study we will consider a variety of materials including artefacts, landscapes, manuscripts, stone sculpture, Old English and Old Norse literature, law codes, charters, and other Latin historical works.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                The Raw Material of Community – This session will establish the material contexts for the rest of the day, by offering an overview of the various ways in which trees contributed to and defined Anglo-Saxon daily life, as a manufacturing material for objects large and small, as a precious resource for sustenance, heat, and light, and as markers for meeting places and boundaries.

11.15 – 11.40:                Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:                Holy Trees, Pillars, and Posts in Pre-Christian Belief – Trees are prominent symbolic objects throughout world religions, monotheistic or otherwise, and seem to have been important in pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon belief. This session will consider the surviving evidence for these beliefs, and what it may tell us about how trees were thought about before the conversion of the English.

12.40 – 14.00:                Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:                 Anglo-Saxon Christianity, the Rood, and the Arbor VitaeTrees, pillars, and posts are especially prominent in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, with its abundance of vegetative symbolism. This session will address the various ways in which trees appear in the cultural products of Anglo-Saxon Christianity, including literature, sculpture, and manuscript illustrations, where sacred trees took on a new lease of life as the Tree of Life and the cross of Calvary.

14.50 – 15.10:                Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:                Trees and People in Old English and Old Norse Literatures – This final session will focus on Old English and Old Norse literature with a view to understanding the attitudes of the early medieval English and Scandinavians towards trees through their own words. In the literatures of these cultures trees often appear to have much in common with humans, an approach which offers considerable insight into approaches to nature and environment in the early Middle Ages.

c.16.00:                            Thanks and Close

About Dr Michael Bintley

Michael BintleyMike Bintley was an undergraduate and postgraduate at University College London, where he wrote his PhD thesis on ‘Trees and Woodland in Anglo-Saxon Culture (literature and archaeology)’ in 2009. After teaching at UCL and Oxford University, he joined Canterbury Christ Church University in 2012, where he is Senior Lecturer in Medieval Literature. His works include Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World (ed. with Michael Shapland); Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England; Representing Beasts in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia (ed. with Tom Williams); Andreas: an Edition (ed. with Richard North); Sensory Perception in the Medieval West (ed. with Simon Thomson); and the forthcoming volume Stasis in the Medieval West? Questioning Change and Continuity.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Michael D. J. Bintley and Michael G. Shapland, eds, Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Michael D. J. Bintley, Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England (Boydell and Brewer, 2015)

John Blair, The Church in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford University Press, 2005)

Martin Carver, Alex Sanmark and Sarah Semple, eds, Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited (Oxbow Books, 2010)

Matthew Hall, Plants as Persons: a Philosophical Botany (SUNY Press, 2011)

Della Hooke, Trees in Anglo-Saxon England: Literature, Lore and Landscape (Boydell and Brewer, 2010)

Richard Muir, Ancient Trees, Living Landscapes (Tempus, 2005)

Richard North, Heathen Gods in Old English Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Éamonn Ó Carragáin, Ritual and the Rood: Liturgical Images and the Old English Poems (The British Library, 2005)

Oliver Rackham, Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape (Phoenix Press, 1990)