Blōd, Swāt, and Drēor
: Material, Poetic, and Religious Discourses on Blood in Anglo-Saxon Literature

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The topic of blood in the later Middle Ages has acquired considerable critical
attention over the last twenty years, but this literature consistently glosses over or completely ignores the Anglo-Saxon period. Much has been written on the feast of Corpus Christi and the worship of the Holy Blood in the later Middle Ages (c. 1200- 1500), and the mass is argued to be the most important cultural function of blood in medieval times. The Anglo-Saxon period (c. 550-1150), if considered at all in these studies, is thought of as a precursor to the more developed and significant symbolism of blood in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, to which it contributes nothing but the underdeveloped seeds of the ideas of later times.
This thesis explores two critical issues: first, it redresses the lack of
research into discourses of blood in Old English literature, and second, it explores whether or not this discourse has the same cultural meanings and symbolization as that of later periods of the Middle Ages. As the first detailed analysis of the meaning of blood in Anglo-Saxon literature, this thesis fills a critical gap in our knowledge of the early Middle Ages, contributing to the study of the historical semantics of the word ‘blood’ as well as the study of its meanings in religious, medical, and poetic discourses. Through close critical reading of Old English and Latin texts and analysis of the semantic fields of key words, this thesis explores the symbolism of blood from an Anglo-Saxon perspective and discusses where in Anglo-Saxon literature blood is actually described or articulated rather than where it is assumed or is implied to be. To understand blood’s significance in Anglo-Saxon culture, this thesis uses case studies from a range of genres, including poetry, homilies, hagiography, and leechbooks or medicinal texts.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorClare Lees (Supervisor), Sarah Salih (Supervisor) & Max Saunders (Supervisor)

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