The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom

The British Library's new blockbuster exhibition focuses on the Anglo-Saxons and the birth of modern England. Peter Gray reports.

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The tag line for the British Library’s new exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdom, says: “600 years. 180 spectacular treasures. A once-in-a-generation exhibition” and that nicely sums up what’s on offer. This show promises to capitalise on the British Library’s incredible collection for an exhibition that few institutions could possibly hope to match.

The show will give visitors a chance to see the beautifully crafted Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History along with a wealth of other artefacts from the likes of Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire Hoard.

These objects will be used to shine a light on what is sometimes still referred to as the dark ages. The term originated with the Italian scholar Petrarch, who in common with many of his period, considered the post roman period in Europe to be a particular low point in the history of culture and learning.

However, while it is true that the fall of the roman empire led to a sustained period of conflict and upheaval, the age was certainly not devoid of cultural and intellectual highpoints and it was the uncovering of these achievements in the last 200 years that allowed a new generation of scholars to dramatically challenge the received wisdom about the period.

This is why Anglo-Saxon Kingdom is so important. It shines a light on one of the most critical and pivotal periods in English history.

For example, the exhibition will offer visitors a front row seat at the birth of the English language with the opportunity to read some of the earliest surviving English words.  Similarly, a host of manuscripts will be enlisted to trace the history of English poetry and prose.

Through these documents the British Library hope to bring the people of Anglo-Saxon England, the forefathers of modern Britain, magically back to life.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdom will open at the British Library on Friday the 19th of October 2018 and end on Tuesday 19th February 2019.

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