Book Series Studies in the Early Middle Ages, vol. 47

Meanings of Water in Early Medieval England

Carolyn Twomey, Daniel Anlezark (eds)

  • Pages: 289 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:16 b/w, 2 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2021

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-58888-9
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-58889-6
  • E-book
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An interdisciplinary approach to the complex meanings of water in the early medieval cultural landscape of England.


“The result is a volume that is an excellent companion to the many extant histories of water technologies and water systems, and is, quite frankly, a must-read for scholars of medieval water and environment.” (Ellen Fenzel Arnold, in The Medieval Review, 22.12.04)

“In providing both broad contexts in the landscape and deeply focused studies, this is one of the best volumes to represent the burgeoning interdisciplinarity of landscape study and ecocriticism.” (Kelley M. Wickham-Crowley, in Speculum, 98/4, 2023, p. 1328)

“This is a very interesting book that centres on a topic that literally surrounded the inhabitants of early England as it does today, while river systems and fenlands would have covered a much greater area at the time. It contributes to a growing number of spatial or ecocritical studies in medieval Europe, (…) the editors skilfully use the space to thread each chapter together by highlighting their shared continuity—I suspect deliberately—to mimic a flowing current. The chapters on art were particularly engaging, fully acknowledging my bias as an art historian, especially given the very tactile nature of water and the history of teaching through images than runs through European culture.” (Manu Braithwaite-Westoby, in Parergon, 40/1, 2023, p. 277)


Carolyn Twomey is a Visiting Assistant Professor of European History at St. Lawrence University in northern New York, USA. She researches and teaches the history of medieval religion and the material world. Daniel Anlezark is the McCaughey Professor of Early English Literature and Language at the University of Sydney. He teaches medieval literature and language, and researches on biblical poetry, and medieval science and literature.


Water is both a practical and symbolic element. Whether a drop blessed by saintly relics or a river flowing to the sea, water formed part of the natural landscapes, religious lives, cultural expressions, and physical needs of medieval women and men.

This volume adopts an interdisciplinary perspective to enlarge our understanding of the overlapping qualities of water in early England (c. 400 – c. 1100). Scholars from the fields of archaeology, history, literature, religion, and art history come together to approach water and its diverse cultural manifestations in the early Middle Ages. Individual essays include investigations of the agency of water and its inhabitants in Old English and Latin literature, divine and demonic waters, littoral landscapes of church archaeology and ritual, visual and aural properties of water, and human passage through water. As a whole, the volume addresses how water in the environment functioned on multiple levels, allowing us to examine the early medieval intersections between the earthly and heavenly, the physical and conceptual, and the material and textual within a single element.


List of Figures



Colour Plates

Introduction: Worlds of Water

Carolyn Twomey and Daniel Anlezark

The Sacred Nature of Rivers, Wells, Springs, and Other Wetlands in Anglo-Saxon England

Della Hooke

Rivers and Rituals: Baptism in the Early English Landscape

Carolyn Twomey

Swimming in Anglo-Saxon England

Simon Trafford

Sensing the Sea: Sounds of Sailors in Anglo-Saxon Literature

Rebecca Shores

The Sailors, the Sea Monster, and the Saviour: Depicting Jonah and the Ketos in Anglo-Saxon England

Elizabeth A. Alexander

Pearls before Paradise: Considering the Material Associations of Heavenly Water/s, Precious Stones, and Liminality in the Art of the Medieval West

Megan Boulton

‘Streams of Wholesome Learning’: The Waters of Genesis in Early Anglo-Saxon Exegesis

John J. Gallagher

Aquas ab Aquis: Aqueous Creation in Andreas

Michael Bintley

Water, Wisdom and Worldliness in the Anglo-Saxon Prose Lives of Guthlac

Helen Appleton

Drawing Alfredian Waters: The Old English Metrical Epilogue to the Pastoral Care, Boethian Metre 20, and Solomon and Saturn II

Daniel Anlezark

Modor is monigra mærra wihta: Watering the World

Jill Frederick