From Paganism to Christianity, A.D. 371-1386


 An elegant history of the Christianization of northwestern Europe. Not many historians would be willing to tackle a subject that encompasses more than 1,000 years of history, several discrete cultures, and numerous religious systems, or that requires a mastery of sparse resources written in several languages no longer extant. Then again, Fletcher (whose 1990 The Quest for El Cid won the Los Angeles Times history prize) is no ordinary historian. He bucks the trend of postwar historical specialization by writing a ``grand'' narrative tracing the rise of Latin Christianity not just in his native England (though this is the most normative case study in the book, to which he constantly refers), but also Spain, France, Germany, and Ireland, among many others. Scandinavia (including Greenland and Iceland) is also included, offering a much needed contribution to the history of western Christendom. The author concludes by recounting Western Christianity's push into eastern Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, and the increasing emphasis on war (``crusade'') as a justified means to convert the heathen abroad. Fletcher's comprehensive, comparative technique is fruitful; he is mindful that the introduction of Christianity into these various regions necessitated not just a transformation of belief, but also an adoption of foreign cultural practices such as Roman government, dress, and food, as well as an emphasis on literacy. Throughout, Fletcher raises provocative questions about the motives for Christian evangelism, as well as the nature of conversion itself: At what point can historians claim that an entire culture was ``converted'' to a particular religion? Fletcher is an even-handed, creative historian. Well written and engaging, his book stands as a uniquely ambitious metahistory. His suggestions for further reading provide direction for more focused inquiry. (36 b&w photos, 10 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-2763-7
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997


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