Anglo Saxons arrived at the British Isles during the 5th century and ruled over England until the 11th century. During this period, the Anglo Saxons gave up paganism, embraced Christianity and produced a sizable body of literature, mostly in Latin and Old English.
Anglo Saxon society also underwent a significant evolution during this period and forged a unified identity. Some of the most notable Anglo Saxons during this period were the ecclesiastical personnel who penned down literature, spearheaded different reformist movements and also produced music in the period.
Venerable Bede was an English monk who lived in the 7th and 8th centuries. Bede was famous, both during his lifetime and later, for being one of the most learned Anglo-Saxon of his period. Bede led a monastic life and had access to an excellent library containing major Greek and Latin works.
He wrote a vast body of biblical and religious works. He also wrote “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People”, one of his most famous books which is the basis for much that is known about Anglo-Saxon history today. Bede was well-versed in multiple languages and also translated many major Greek and Latin works in Old English, laying a strong lingual basis for the Anglo-Saxons.
Aldhlem was one of the most famous Anglo-Saxon poets of the medieval period. He lived from 639 to 709 and descended from the royal family of Wessex. Apart from a vast body of works, Aldhlem earned fame all over Europe as a reputed and learned poet.
Aldhlem wrote mostly in Latin verse. His contemporary, Bede, lauded him as one of the best scholars of the period and his reputation reached as far as Rome where he was invited to meet the Pope. A large body of Aldhlem’s works, both in prose and poetry, are extant today.
Dunstan was a 10th century monk who lived in Anglo-Saxon England. As a monk, Dunstan was instrumental in restoring the declining monastic traditions in England. During his life as a monk, he also excelled as a musician and an expert in metalwork.
He was subsequently made the Abbot of Glastonbury and eventually ascended to the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Although he wielded considerable power in the court of multiple English kings, he remained strictly attached to a monastic lifestyle throughout his life. He was formally canonised as a saint in the 11th century and remained the most famous English saint for the following two centuries.
Cynewulf is one of the very few Old English poets whose name and works have survived to this day. Although biographical material about him is limited, it is historically surmised that he lived between the 8th and 10th centuries.
The extant poetry of Cynewulf makes heavy use of alliterative verse but unlike many other Old English poems, does not draw directly upon Biblical sources. Some of Cynewulf’s poems deal with the lives of the saints. An interesting feature of Cynewulf’s poetry is that in all of his extant poems, he has interwoven his name into the text using runic symbols.