History, Hagiography and Biblical Exegesis: Essays on Bede, Adomnán and Thomas Becket, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

History, Hagiography and Biblical Exegesis

Essays on Bede, Adomnán and Thomas Becket, 1st Edition

By Jennifer O'Reilly

Edited by Máirín MacCarron, Diarmuid Scully


388 pages

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When she died in 2016, Dr Jennifer O’Reilly left behind a body of published and unpublished work in three areas of medieval studies: the iconography of the Gospel Books produced in early medieval Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England; the writings of Bede and his older Irish contemporary, Adomnán of Iona; and the early lives of Thomas Becket. In these three areas she explored the connections between historical texts, artistic images and biblical exegesis.

This volume is a collection of 16 essays, old and new, relating history and exegesis in the writings of Bede and Adomnán, and in the lives of Thomas Becket. The first part consists of seven studies of Bede’s writings, notably his biblical commentaries and his Ecclesiastical History. Two of the essays are published here for the first time. The five studies in the second part, devoted to Adomnán, discuss his life of Saint Columba (the Vita Columbae) and his guide to the Holy Places (De locis sanctis). One essay (‘The Bible as Map’), published posthumously, compares his presentation of a major theme, the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem, with the approach adopted by Bede. The third section consists of two essays on the lives of Thomas Becket that were composed shortly after his death. They examine, in the context of patristic exegesis, the biblical images invoked in the texts in order to show how the saint’s biographers understood the complex relationship between hagiography and history. With the exception of the Jarrow Lecture on Bede and the essays on Becket, the studies in both parts were published originally in edited books, some of them now hard to come by.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1. Introduction to Bede. On the Temple

((xvii–lv), in Translated Texts for Historians, vol. 21 tr. Seán Connolly (1995))

2. Islands and idols at the ends of the earth: exegesis and conversion in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica

((119–145), in Bède le vénérable. Entre tradition et posterité, ed. Stephane Lebecq, Michel Perrin and Olivier Szerwiniack (2005))

3. Bede on seeing the God of gods in Zion

((3–29), in Text, image and interpretation. Studies in Anglo-Saxon literature and its Insular context in honour of Éamonn Ó Carragáin, ed. Alastair Minnis and Jane Roberts (2007))

4. The multitude of isles and the corner-stone: topography, exegesis and the identity of the Angli in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica

((201–27), in Anglo-Saxon Traces, ed. Jane Roberts and Leslie Webster (2011))

5. St Paul and the sign of Jonah. Theology and Scripture in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum

('St Paul and the Sign of Jonah. Theology and Scripture in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum', was delivered in The Jarrow Lecture 2014 and published in 2018 by The Parish Church Council of St. Paul’s Church, Jarrow.)

6. Bede and Monothelitism

7. Bede and the Dating of Easter: The image of the Mediator in the writings of Bede

8. Reading the Scriptures in the Life of Columba

((80–106), in Studies in the cult of St Columba, ed. Cormac Bourke (1997))

9. The wisdom of the scribe and the fear of the Lord in the Life of St Columba

((159–211), in Spes Scotorum. Hope of Scots, ed. Dauvit Broun and Thomas Owen Clancy (1999))

10. Adomnán and the art of teaching spiritual sons

((69–94), in Adomnán of Iona: theologian, lawmaker and peacemaker, ed. Jonathan Wooding, Thomas O’Loughlin et al. (2010))

11. Columba at Clonmacnoise

((380–390), in Sacred Histories. A Festschrift for Máire Herbert, ed. John Carey, Kevin Murray and Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh (2015))

12. The Bible as Map, On Seeing God and Finding the Way: Pilgrimage and Exegesis in Adomnán and Bede

((210–226), in Place and Space in the Medieval World, ed. Meg Boulton, Jane Hawkes and Heidi Stoner (2018))

13. Candidus et rubicundus: an image of martyrdom in the Lives of Thomas Becket

((303–14), in Analecta Bollandiana 99 (1981))

14. The double martyrdom of Thomas Becket: hagiography or history?

((185–247), in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 7 (1985))


About the Author/Editors

Jennifer O’Reilly received her B.A. Honours degree in History in 1964, and her Ph.D. in Art History in 1972, both in the University of Nottingham. Her monograph, Studies in the Iconography of the Virtues and Vices in the Middle Ages was published in 1988. A book of essays in her honour was published in 2011: Listen, o isles, unto me: studies in medieval word and image.

Dr Máirín MacCarron is a Senior Researcher at the University of Sheffield. She has published on Women in Medieval Society, the Development of Chronology and Computus in the Early Middle Ages, and Network Science and Digital Humanities.

Dr Diarmuid Scully lectures in the School of History, University College Cork. His research interests include Bede and the textual and visual representation of late antique and medieval Insular identities.

About the Series

Variorum Collected Studies

The first title in the Variorum Collected Studies series was published in 1970. Since then well over 1000 titles have appeared in the series, and it has established a well-earned international reputation for the publication of key research across a whole range of subjects within the fields of history.

The history of the medieval world remains central to the series, with Byzantine studies a particular speciality, but the range of titles extends from Hellenistic philosophy and the history of the Roman empire and early Christianity, through the Renaissance and Reformation, up to the 20th century. Islamic Studies forms another major strand as do the histories of science, technology and medicine.

Each title in the Variorum Collected Studies series brings together for the first time a selection of articles by a leading authority on a particular subject. These studies are reprinted from a vast range of learned journals, Festschrifts and conference proceedings. They make available research that is scattered, even inaccessible in all but the largest and most specialized libraries. With a new introduction and index, and often with new notes and previously unpublished material, they constitute an essential resource. 

For further information about contributing to the series please contact Michael Greenwood at Michael.Greenwood@informa.com

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General