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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Members

The list below shows Durham University research staff who are members of IMEMS. Click the member's name to see a more detailed biography and department.

We also welcome anyone from outside the University with an interest in our work to join. Membership is free of charge. You will receive invitations to our programme of events, with a weekly emails digest about what is happening in the Insitute and further afield. To join IMEMS contact: admin.imems@durham.ac.uk

Publication details for Dr John-Henry Clay

Clay, John-Henry (2009). Gift-giving and books in the letters of St Boniface and Lul. Journal of Medieval History 35(4): 313-325.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The Anglo-Saxon missionary and archbishop St Boniface (d. 754) and Lul, his protégé and successor in the see Mainz (d. 768), left behind a rich collection of letters that has become and invaluable source in our understanding of Boniface's mission. This article examines the letters in order to elucidate the customs of gift-giving that existed between those who were involved in the mission, whether directly or as external supporters. It begins with a brief overview of anthropological models of gift-giving, followed by a discussion of the portrayal of gift-giving in Anglo-Saxon literature. Two features of the letters of Boniface and Lul are then examined - the giving of gifts and the giving of books - and a crucial distinction between them revealed. Although particular customs of gift-giving between the missionaries and their supporters were well-established, and indeed bore some resemblance to 'secular' gift-giving customs depicted in Anglo-Saxon poetry, books, while exchanged frequently, were consistently excluded from the ritualised structures of gift-giving. A dual explanation for this phenomenon is proposed: first, that books were of greater practical importance to the mission than other forms of gifts; second, that their status as sacred texts rendered them as unsuitable for inclusion within rituals that depended upon the giver emphatically belittling the material worth of their own gift.