Echternach and the formation of Carolingian Europe. Politics of conversion in the time of Willibrord (7th-8th centuries)


CALL: 2017

DOMAIN: ID - Humanities and Social Sciences





HOST INSTITUTION: Trinity College Dublin

KEYWORDS: Religion, identities, elites, power, source criticism, cultural transfer

START: 2017-09-01

END: 2020-08-31


Submitted Abstract

The aim of the project WILL17 is to re-evaluate the political role played by the Anglo-Saxon missionary Willibrord (AD 658-739) in the process which the saw the integration of the province of Frisia into the Frankish realm and the establishment of the Carolingian dynasty as the dominant power in continental Northwest Europe. The project argues that Willibrord’s activity has so far been analysed from a one-sided perspective as historians have based their studies on the master narrative of the ‘Christianization’ of Europe and thereby reduced Willibrord’s agency to his role as a missionary and as a harbinger of Carolingian dominion over the pagan Frisians. The project wishes to re-assess the role of the early medieval missionary as a political agent, a concept that has recently been applied to Willibrord. However, no study has so far examined how Willibrord acted politically in the space between Utrecht and Echternach. The joining of missionary activity and political power is still thought to be the key phenomenon that led to the unification of Western Europe under Carolingian rule after three centuries of ‘Dark Ages’. However, this image is mainly created by pro-Carolingian texts that were written at the end of the eighth century and which give the impression that the Carolingians’ ancestors’ political horizon was already ‘imperial’. It is the project’s aim to adopt an innovative and more differentiated look on Willibrord and his period that stresses his agency as a landowner and diplomat instead of portraying him as a ‘vassal’ of political power: By re-examining Willibrord’s networks, the geographical context of his activity and the scope of his cultural influences on the basis of historical and archaeological sources, the dissertation seeks to gain a better understanding of the social and religious mechanisms that allowed missionaries to play an important role in secular politics.

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