Beowulf

Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England

The people who would become the Anglo-Saxons first migrated to England in the fifth century. At that time they were pagans, believing in many gods. However, starting around 600 A.D., the Anglo-Saxons began converting to Christianity. By the time Beowulf was written the new religion was strongly established throughout the country. Since monasteries were the main hubs of education, most literate people were monks. Many scholars believe it’s likely that the Beowulf-poet was a monk. However, Christian beliefs sat uneasily with the existing cultural values of Anglo-Saxon society, which continued to draw heavily on the warlike values of the their pagan ancestors. From the late eighth century, Christian England came under attack from pagan Danes. On the one hand, these invasions required English kings and aristocrats to re-embrace warrior values. On the other, the Danish invasions helped to crystallize Christianity as a distinguishing feature of English identity. One of Beowulf’s central concerns is the tension between the values of the pagan warrior code and the values upheld by Christian belief. The poet seems convinced of the truth of Christian teachings, but he is also bewitched by the glamour of the old ways.