It is important to understand that the knowledge of this period is one which has been presented through clerics and monks like Bede.
Bede himself was literate and so much of his work can be understood to present the process of Christianization within Northumbria.This gave a clear indication towards the writing of Bede as much of his work had highlighted the history of the English people as well as their development of their identities.The extract allows us to understand the reasons why King Edwin was persuaded to convert which, in turn, helps us to understand the attractions of Christianity to kings more widely. This entails many in believing that Christianity would answer questions that were seen to be unknown. However, it can be argued that even though Bede’s extract signifies the spread of Christianity is it rather questionable as to the extent at which people remained Christian, as it was said that many reverted back to paganism. Bede’s document allows us to understand the importance of religion, as well as surfacing key problems like kingship.
The document presents King Edwin as a man of authoritative power this is shown when the priests and missionaries support his conversion as they set out to ‘destroy the idols’. The conversion shows the ‘top-down’ method of conversion, which is reflected through King Edwin in the Bede extract as he used his power to ultimately lead the conversion of Northumbria.The extract recognises the stages that led to King Edwin and the conversion of the Northumbrians. The focal point of Bede’s extract begins with the narrative on the meeting with the council. In which a vision has been witnessed previously whereby the figure shadowed could be argued to have been Paulinus and from this they had decided for a ‘new doctrine’ and ‘new worship’.A counter argument from another source has argued that it was in fact King Edwin himself who had announced the end to paganism and the adoption towards Christianity. Church claims ‘Edwin formally and publicly declared his faith in christ and renounced idolatry’ suggesting that even though Paulinus was said to have had a lot of input within the conversion ultimately the action was taken by the King himself and this had been demonstrated in Bedes extract.
It can therefore be argued that the actions of King Edwin had led to the spread and conversion of the Northumbrians. The common questions that are raised from this extract is that even though there was a spread of Christianity amongst the kingdom it is arguable to question whether the conversion could be seen as to having a lasting impact.Many historians including Barrow argued that, ‘Ray Page has attacked Bede’s reliability as a source for Anglo-Saxon paganism’ this adds to the fact that much of Bede’s perspective cannot be trusted as he would obviously portray paganism as negative in contrast to the representation of Christianity which is shown in more a positive light. Bede’s extract has a number of reoccurring themes some of which include the importance of religion and kingship during the Middle Ages. Rollason states that ‘Christianity was imposed from above on a people who received it by virtue of the power and authority of the persons or the institutions transmitting it to them’ this indicates that during the Anglo Saxon period the hierarchy system ultimately decided on whether one could go through a conversion.
Bede’s extract presents the King of Northumbria, Edwin as experiencing a conversion to Christianity. It can be argued that Paulinus takes on a role in Edwin’s conversion as he heavily influenced his decision. Higham argues that King Edwin ‘showed himself open to the advice and teaching of Bishop Paulinus’ and this did in fact bring about the conversion itself furthermore it is important to understand that the extract does infact shed a light on Bede’s concerns of the church.One of the mains reasons for the conversion itself was the benefits of Christianity as much of the teachings allow an understanding as well as an answer to the unknown questions. However, the Pagan faith did not offer much reasoning or understanding to issues. King Edwin’s conversion to Christianity was significantly important as it allows the recognition for the spread of Christianity amongst the kingdom of Northumbria.The importance of religion is highlighted through ‘biblical parallels and religious symbolism in the conversion accounts’ which signify the deeper meanings within the source. Bede’s ending of the extract reinforces the theme of ‘religion’ with the reference of ‘Casting into it a spear’ the significance of Coifi actions are there to echo the imagery of the piercing of Christ side as he was being crucified.
Furthermore, the way in which Coifi had pierced the shrine was a way of allowing people into the Christian faith and he had also done the same for the Northumbrians. Bede’s preface on The Ecclesiastical History of the English People is dedicated to King Ceolwulph ‘the most glorious king’ this is significant as it can be argued that Bede had wanted the acceptance of the King Ceolwulph.The preface provides an insight into the relationship between both Bede and the king as Bede had previously sent a copy to the king. The historical debate focuses on the extent to which Bede’s account describes the spread of Christianity as well as the way in which it is represented within the source. Stafford claims that ‘Bede knew Christianity was displaced paganism as the official religion throughout these kingdoms’the extract reflects this belief as previous pagan ‘idols’, ‘alters’ and ‘temples’ all which represent a religious purpose are said to have been destroyed with Christianity replacing previous practises.This highlights the transition as well as creating a common ground for the kingdom of Northumbria as the development of identity for the English was formed by Bede. He created a common identity within Northumbria which can be argued to be Christianity signifying that the pagan faith had lost its importance within paganism had no the kingdom as it was no longer practised.
Collins further states that ‘Anglo Saxons kingdoms and all their inhabitants were pagan until the arrival of the mission to Kent’ suggesting that previously paganism had been dominant, however this soon changed. Barrow argues that they ‘tended to concentrate on Bede’s Christian message’ this is important as Bede’s portrayal of the conversion of the Northumbrians and Edwin further emphasised the spread of Christianity which had been enhanced through the actions of King Edwin.He ends the source with ‘rejoicing in the knowledge of the worship of the true God’ suggesting the clear recognition of Christianity as well as signifying the importance of King Edwin’s conversion and the impact it had amongst the kingdom of Northumbria.
Bede’s extract enables us to understand the important figures who played a significant role within the conversion of King Edwin and the Northumbrians. The questions which are raised by this extract are the extent at which the conversion to Christianity was regarded as a ‘powerful conversion’ as after Edwin died many were said to have reverted back to paganism. This further questions whether the conversion could be considered as a ‘forced conversion’ as well as emphasising the significance of King Edwin’s conversion to Christianity. Lastly, the understanding in which we gain from monks like Bede are questionable in understanding the ‘truth’ of this event as of these monks write from a Christian perspective which could be argued to affect the overall source..