Between earth and heaven

Liminality and the Ascension of Christ in Anglo-Saxon literature

Author: Johanna Kramer

This book offers readers a new understanding of the methods of religious instruction and the uses of religious texts in Anglo-Saxon England, capturing the lived significance of these texts to contemporary audiences. An examination of Anglo-Saxon texts based on their didactic strategies, succeed at teaching theology, and blended cultural influences allows us to evaluate both celebrated and neglected texts more even-handedly and in a new light. The book first deals with the history and character of the theology of Christ's Ascension. It traces the history of Ascension theology from its scriptural roots to its patristic elaborations and to its transmission in Anglo-Saxon England, presenting those doctrines and themes that become most relevant to insular authors. The history of Ascension theology shows that Anglo-Saxon authors make deliberate and innovative choices in how they present the inherited patristic theology to their contemporary audiences. The book then contends that both the martyrologist and the Blickling homilist recognize the importance of liminality to Ascension theology and use the footprints as the perfect vehicle to convey this. It also examines the ways in which Anglo-Saxon authors construct spatial relationships to establish symbolic relationships between three major Christological events: the Ascension, the Harrowing of Hell, and Christ's Entry into heaven. Analysing individual Rogationtide and Ascension homilies, both Latin and vernacular, the book moves from the formal preaching of theology to the spatial practices of Rogationtide liturgy to the popular beliefs about boundaries and the earth.

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Winner of the Southeastern Medieval Association Award for the best first book, 2016


‘In this volume, Kramer shows what can be achieved by examining the influence of patristic material on vernacular works, particularly anonymous 'popular' texts, and by applying cultural anthropology to religious material. Between Earth and Heaven makes a useful contribution to the field, particularly by demonstrating the value of reading across genres to gain a more complete picture of Anglo-Saxon attitudes.'
Helen Appleton, St Hilda's College, Oxford

‘Johanna Kramer's lucidly written Between Earth and Heaven: Liminality and the Ascension of Christ in Anglo-Saxon Literature makes the case for the centrality of the Ascension in Anglo-Saxon thought and religious practice… By articulating the rhetorical and theological values inherent in these texts, Kramer suggests the ways in which we might better reflect the interdisciplinary, nonhierarchical, genre-crossing practices of Anglo-Saxon peoples, advocating a scholarly methodology that embraces the liminal.'
Jordan Zweck, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Modern Philology, Vol. 113, Number 3
February 2017

‘The book is meticulously produced…It will no doubt be widely read and often cited in the years to come, and will be particularly welcome to anyone interested in the influence and development of patristic theology and the history of religious observance in Anglo-Saxon England.'
Daniel Thomas, Wadham College, Oxford

‘An excellent example of successful Anglo-Saxon interdisciplinary scholarship.'
Andrew Scheil, University of Minnesota
Speculum, journal of the Medieval Academy of America, (91/1) issue
January 2016

‘Between Earth and Heaven is an admirable, very well-researched and written monograph. The book demonstrates the intelligent potential of source study and is, I think, most original when it moves to encompass interdisciplinary materials and the study of popular religious practices. Obviously the fruit of deep contemplation on the topic, as well as wide reading and research, Kramer's book is certainly the definitive study on this subject, and it is also a model for how other investigations of this sort on other Anglo-Saxon or early medieval theological topics could be conducted and organized.'
Andrew Scheil, University of Minnesota
Speculum 91/1
January 2016

‘Many of the great studies of Anglo-Saxon literary culture are highly liminal undertakings, moving as they do along the boundaries of the various disciplines that make up our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon world. Kramer's Between Earth and Heaven is an exemplary specimen of this tradition. It expertly straddles the line between literature and theology, shows an excellent understanding of its Latin and Old English sources, makes cautious but generally compelling inferences about the popular practice of religion, and adduces evidence in support of its thesis from the visual arts. Composed in an eloquent prose that never distracts from its message, Between Earth and Heaven is a valuable contribution to the field both for its original insights and as a proof of method.'
P. S. Langeslag, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Anglia 134
May 2016

‘This is a gem of a monograph and will be of great value to its readers. Despite its deceptively narrow focus on a single liturgical occasion, it has interesting and important things to say about an exceptionally wide range of genres. In terms of literary material, Kramer analyzes both poetry and prose, including homilies, hymns and charms, well-known texts and rarities, chronologically ranging from the eighth century to the twelfth, with coverage also of the Biblical and patristic backgrounds.'
Christine Rauer, University of St Andrews
Journal of English and Germanic Philology
April 2016

‘With the reader being at every turn clearly directed through its central argument, this book analyses a number of texts which, though diverse in genre and era, are complementary in their theological focus. Kramer has made an important contribution to the study of Anglo-Saxon literature and its role in transmitting belief, not only through her persuasive arguments, but also through her methodology and emphasis on lived religion, crossing over the artificial boundaries of period and genre.'
Kate Thomas, University of York
Review of English Studies
February 2015

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