The Community of St. Cuthbert in the Late Tenth Century

The Chester-le-Street Additions to Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19

Karen Louise Jolly

Text and Context


Literary Criticism/Medieval; History/Medieval; Religion/Christianity/History
410 pp. 6x9

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Table of Contents

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The author recommends the following links:

Durham Cathedral Library

The Parish Church of St Mary and St Cuthbert Chester-le-Street

High Quality Version of the Lindisfarne Gospels from the British Library Online Gallery (see “Pinnacle of Anglo-Saxon Art”)

Revealing Words: Northumbria in the Tenth Century


Jolly’s investigation of the codicology is meticulous, her analysis of the texts sensitive, and her assessment of the quality and purpose of the work sympathetic: she reasonably takes a very favorable view of Aldred’s abilities and contributions in particular. . . . Balancing rigorous analysis of the evidence of the additions with a realistic attempt to empathize with the aims and assumptions of those who produced them, Jolly’s insightful study shows how part of a single key manuscript can indeed be a window through which to perceive the beliefs, culture, and observances of a distant community and its relationship to a wider world. —Catholic Historical Review

“The edition and the notes are extraordinarily detailed, and the presentation makes it all easy to read. This is a treasure trove of fascinating material, and the general level of attention to philological, scribal, and orthographic problems is impressively thorough. This is an achievement to be proud of.” —Tom Hall, professor of English, University of Notre Dame

“This is quite simply superb and exemplifies a scholarly synthesis which I had heretofore only dreamed of. This study brings together an informed style of manuscript analysis with a kind of cultural history that combines the local with the big picture, all illuminated through a high level of understanding of the liturgy. A striking achievement is that the book maintains the uncertainties dictated by the evidence and yet casts light on religious practice at Chester-le-Street in a way that illuminates the whole world of Anglo-Saxon religious communities and their complex engagement with scribal culture more generally.” —Jonathan Wilcox, professor of English, University of Iowa

The Community of St. Cuthbert in the Late Tenth Century: The Chester-le-Street Additions to Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19 reveals the dynamic role a seemingly marginalized community played during a defining period for the emergence of English religious identity. Based on her new critical edition of additions made to Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19 and by questioning the purpose of those late tenth-century additions, Karen Louise Jolly is able to uncover much about the Chester-le-Street scribes and their tumultuous time, rife as it was with various political tensions, from Vikings and local Northumbrian nobles to an increasingly dominant West Saxon monarchy.

Why, for instance, would a priest laboriously insert an Old English gloss above every Latin word in a collection of prayers intended to be performed in Latin? What motivated the same English scribe to include Irish-derived Christian materials in the manuscript, including prayers invoking the archangel Panchiel to clear birds from a field?

Jolly’s extensive contextual analysis includes a biography of Aldred, the priest and provost of the community primarily responsible for adding these unusual texts. Besides reinterpreting the manuscript’s paleography and codicology, she investigates both the drive for reform evidenced by the added liturgical materials and the new importance of Irish-derived encyclopedic and educational materials.

Karen Louise Jolly (website) is associate professor in the department of history at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.