Dr Janina Ramirez explores how monasteries evolved from a cult of extreme isolation and self-deprivation into powerhouses of Anglo-Saxon art, industry and learning.
Janina begins her journey on the desolate rock of Skellig St Michael off the east coast of Ireland, home to the oldest surviving monastery in the British Isles. She investigates the harsh lives led by these early monks, and tells the story of the arrival of hermetic Irish monasticism in Anglo-Saxon Northumberland. Monasteries such as Lindisfarne and Whitby became beacons of civilisation and literature in the barbaric Anglo-Saxon world, creating wondrous works of art including the Lindisfarne Gospels and St Cuthbert's pectoral cross.
A rival form of regimented, communal monasticism was imported into southern Britain from Rome, and Janina reveals the holy struggle that ensued between these two opposing monastic ideals. The victors would transform the culture and landscape of England, until they too were destroyed by a new wave of barbarian invaders.
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