Holding the Sacred: Discourses of Secrecy and Concealment in Early Medieval England, 600-1100


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


English and Medieval Studies


The bivalent belief that God’s secrets are unknowable and that God knows all human secrets underpins one of the most widespread and overarching ideologies of the European Middle Ages. This belief, as assumed in Anglo-Saxon England, profoundly affected the ways in which believers acted and thought as subjects under the law, as religious within monasteries, and as readers before books. However, largely overlooking this phenomenon and ignoring the role of God in the human experience of concealment, scholars have assumed that medieval secrecy was like ours. This dissertation demonstrates how the legal and monastic practices of the period shaped an ethics of secrecy and concealment radically different from our own and how, in turn, Anglo-Saxon literature established its own systems of hermeneutics that confront the limits of human perception and the potency of God’s knowledge.