Book Series Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, vol. 19

The Introduction of Christianity into the Early Medieval Insular World

Converting the Isles I

Roy Flechner, Máire Ní Mhaonaigh (eds)

  • Pages: xx + 510 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:9 b/w, 2 Maps
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2016

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-55462-4
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-55504-1
  • E-book
  • Available

The volume offers a cross disciplinary perspective on conversion to Christianity in the early middle ages in the Insular World, with contributions by leading historians, archaeologists, and literary scholars.


“In conclusion, this is a rich, varied and well-designed volume, which stresses the necessity of fine distinctions between different regions, temporalities and aspects in the study of the process of conversion. We can only look forward to the publication of its forthcoming companion.” (Alban Gautier, in The Medieval Review, 11.05.2017)

“With its up-to-date bibliographies and state of the art summaries, this will be an important work of reference. But it also breaks new ground and opens new questions. The full results of this project will only be appreciated when volume ii appears, dealing more with material sources, literacy and learning, as well as bringing out overall conclusions. The success of volume i whets the appetite.” (Pauline Stafford, in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 69, 2018, p. 127)

“Overall, this is a tighter and more focused volume that presents a range of useful comparative data, as well as rehearsing some of the key methodological issues that emerge in trying to integrate archaeological and textual sources.” (David Petts, in Society of Medieval Archaeology, 61/2, 2017, p. 437)

“Overall, this is a thought-provoking collection of papers which will deepen readers’ knowledge of conversion and Christianisation in north-west Europe. I look forward to reading and learning more in the second volume of the ‘Converting the Isles’ project.” (Clare Downham, in Saga-Book, XLII, 2018, p. 199)

“For a return to the issues of insular Christianity in the early medieval period, or for the advanced student tackling it for the first time, this volume presents relevant problems, with a historiography that is very much state-of-the art.” (Stephen Joyce, in Parergon, 35/1, 2018, p. 171)


Conversion to Christianity is arguably the most revolutionary social and cultural change that Europe experienced throughout Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Christianisation affected all strata of society and transformed not only religious beliefs and practices, but also the nature of government, the priorities of the economy, the character of kinship, and gender relations. It is against this backdrop that an international array of leading medievalists gathered under the auspices of the Converting the Isles Research Network (funded by the Leverhulme Trust) to investigate social, economic, and cultural aspects of conversion in the early medieval Insular world, covering different parts of Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, and Iceland.

This is is the first of two volumes showcasing research generated through the ‘Converting the Isles’ Network. This volume focuses on specific aspects of the introduction of Christianity into the early medieval Insular world, including the nature and degree of missionary activity involved, socio-economic stimulants for conversion, as well as the depiction and presentation of a Christian saint. Its companion volume has the transformation of landscape as its main theme. By adopting a broad comparative and crossdisciplinary approach that transcends national boundaries, the material presented here and in volume II offers novel perspectives on conversion that challenge existing historiographical narratives and draw on up-to-date archaeological and written evidence in order to shed light on central issues pertaining to the conversion of the Isles.

See the companion volume -- Transforming Landscapes of Belief in the Early Medieval Insular World and Beyond -- at:



The Comparative Method and Early Medieval Religious Conversion — CHRIS WICKHAM

Part I. The Historiography of Conversion

Conversion in Ireland: Reflections on the State of the Art — ROY FLECHNER

The Historiography of the Anglo-Saxon Conversion: The State of the Art — THOMAS PICKLES

Perspectives on Wales — NANCY EDWARDS

Conversion to Christianity in Scandinavia: A Historiographical Overview — SÆBJØRG WALAKER NORDEIDE

Part II. Missions

What is a Mission? — IAN WOOD

Martyrdom and the Rise of Missionary Hagiography in the Late Merovingian World — JAMES T. PALMER

Conversion in Ireland — COLMÁN ETCHINGHAM

Conversion in Context: Anthropological and Missiological Aspects from African Studies — TOMAS SUNDNES DRØNEN

Part III. Perceptions of Conversion

Plebs: Concepts of Community among Late Antique Britons — ALEX WOOLF

From Pagan to Christian in Anglo-Saxon England — BARBARA YORKE

Perceptions of Pagan and Christian: From Patrick to Gregory the Great — T. M. CHARLES-EDWARDS

Part IV. Society and Economy

Currency, Conversion and the Landscape of Power in the Early Middle Ages — RORY NAISMITH

Ideological Transitions in Pictland — MARTIN CARVER

Conversion and Cultural Change. Burial Paradigms in Viking Age Iceland — ORRI VÉSTEINSSON

Downland, Marsh, and Weald: Monastic Foundation and Rural Intensification in Anglo-Saxon Kent — GABOR THOMAS

Conversion to Christianity and Economic Change: Consequence or Coincidence? — WENDY DAVIES AND ROY FLECHNER

Part V. Saints and Hagiography

Shaping the Saint: Rewriting Tradition in the Early Lives of St Cuthbert — ALAN THACKER

The Saints in Narratives of Conversion from the Britonnic-Speaking Regions — BARRY LEWIS

The Missionary Saint and The Saga Hero: Viking ‘Hagiography’ — SIÂN GRØNLIE


Converting the Isles: Continuity and Transformation — MÁIRE NÍ MHAONAIGH