Sawicka-Sykes Sophie, Heavenly choirs in early medieval England : a study of topoi in their contexts

Sawicka-Sykes Sophie, Heavenly choirs in early medieval England : a study of topoi in their contexts, Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2015 (University of East Anglia)

Résumé/abstract :

This thesis tracks ideas about choirs of angels and righteous souls from their early manifestations in the Bible and late antique texts through to their ramifications in Anglo-Saxon and early Anglo-Norman England (up to 1116). It does so by tracing changes in topoi, commonplaces that form part of the fabric of visions, hagiographical narratives and ascetic guidance literature. Unlike previous studies that have examined topoi, the thesis both thoroughly scrutinises developments in commonplaces and situates them within their wider religious and cultural contexts. It therefore shows how topoi intersect with, and construct, ideas about salvation and eschatological reward. The argument also contributes to the field of angel studies and to discussions on heavenly song by examining nuances in the depiction of angelic worship and its perception in the early Middle Ages. Of all the chapters in the thesis, the first is the broadest in focus: it poses the question of what it meant for spiritual beings to form a heavenly choir, and establishes the major themes and questions that will be pursued throughout the remainder of the study. Chapters two and three follow the developments in two of the topoi that are found most frequently in texts of the ascetic tradition – the conveyance of the soul to heaven by psychopomps, and the new song of the virgins. Chapter four, a case study of hagiographies produced at Canterbury in the late tenth and late eleventh centuries, examines the relationship between angelic and monastic choirs. The thesis as a whole illuminates the complexity and diversity of ideas about groups of celestial singers, shedding light on how writers adapted existing material in response to changing spiritual climates.

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