Book review: Religion in Medieval London by Bruno Barber

Religion in Medieval London
Religion in Medieval London

A well-produced and nicely illustrated guide to the archaeology of belief in medieval London. No quarrels with the analysis of the archaeological findings, but whenever the authors attempt to explain the wider historical context, they seem to be floundering. For instance, they appear to think that the key Christian concept of the Eucharist, that the bread and wine offered during Mass become the Body and Blood of Christ, was first promulgated at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, when in fact the council defined as dogma a pre-existing belief.

Where the authors really fall down, though, is their explanation and potted history of the Crusades, which appears to have got stuck in the first wave of post-Victorian revisionism, which replaced one crude dichotomy (Crusaders good, Saracens, apart from Saladin, bad) with an even cruder one (all Crusaders bad, all Muslims good). As archaeologists and historians they really should know that things have moved past that, with a far more nuanced appreciation and understanding of both sides in the conflict. So, in summary, good on the archaeology, pretty poor on everything else.


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