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Gift-giving and books in the letters of St Boniface and Lul.

Clay, John-Henry (2009) 'Gift-giving and books in the letters of St Boniface and Lul.', Journal of medieval history., 36 (4). pp. 313-325.


The Anglo-Saxon missionary and archbishop St Boniface (d. 754) and Lul, his protégé and successor in the see Mainz (d. 768), left behind a rich collection of letters that has become and invaluable source in our understanding of Boniface's mission. This article examines the letters in order to elucidate the customs of gift-giving that existed between those who were involved in the mission, whether directly or as external supporters. It begins with a brief overview of anthropological models of gift-giving, followed by a discussion of the portrayal of gift-giving in Anglo-Saxon literature. Two features of the letters of Boniface and Lul are then examined - the giving of gifts and the giving of books - and a crucial distinction between them revealed. Although particular customs of gift-giving between the missionaries and their supporters were well-established, and indeed bore some resemblance to 'secular' gift-giving customs depicted in Anglo-Saxon poetry, books, while exchanged frequently, were consistently excluded from the ritualised structures of gift-giving. A dual explanation for this phenomenon is proposed: first, that books were of greater practical importance to the mission than other forms of gifts; second, that their status as sacred texts rendered them as unsuitable for inclusion within rituals that depended upon the giver emphatically belittling the material worth of their own gift.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Boniface, Lul, Anglo-Saxons, Gifts, Letters, Books, Codicology.
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Publisher statement:This is an electronic version of an article published in Clay, John-Henry (2009) 'Gift-giving and books in the letters of St Boniface and Lul.', Journal of medieval history., 36 (4). pp. 313-325. Journal of medieval history is available online at:
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:14 June 2013
Date of first online publication:December 2009
Date first made open access:No date available

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