Between earth and heaven

Liminality and the Ascension of Christ in Anglo-Saxon literature

By Johanna Kramer

Between earth and heaven


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-1853-0
  • Pages: 264
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £27.99
  • Published Date: March 2017
  • BIC Category: Literature, Literary studies: ancient & classical, RELIGION / General, LITERARY CRITICISM / Medieval, Humanities / Religion & beliefs, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: classical, early & medieval, Medieval Literature
  • Series: Manchester Medieval Literature and Culture


Between earth and heaven examines the teaching of the theology of Christ's ascension in Anglo-Saxon literature, offering the only comprehensive examination of how patristic ascension theology is transmitted, adapted and taught to Anglo-Saxon audiences. This book argues that Anglo-Saxon authors recognise the Ascension as fundamentally liminal in nature, as concerned with crossing boundaries and inhabiting dual states. In their teaching, authors convert abstract theology into concrete motifs reflecting this liminality, such as the gates of heaven and Christ's footprints.

By examining a range of liminal imagery, Between earth and heaven demonstrates the consistent sophistication and unity of Ascension theology in such diverse sources as Latin and Old English homilies, religious poetry, liturgical practices, and lay popular beliefs and rituals. This study not only refines our evaluation of Anglo-Saxon authors' knowledge of patristic theology and their process of source adaptation, but also offers a new understanding of the methods of religious instruction and uses of religious texts in Anglo-Saxon England, capturing their lived significance to contemporary audiences.


'Between Earth and Heaven is an admirable, very well-researched and written monograph. The book demonstrates the intelligent potential of source study and is, I think, most original when it moves to encompass interdisciplinary materials and the study of popular religious practices. Obviously the fruit of deep contemplation on the topic, as well as wide reading and research, Kramer's book is certainly the definitive study on this subject, and it is also a model for how other investigations of this sort on other Anglo-Saxon or early medieval theological topics could be conducted and organized.'
Andrew Scheil, University of Minnesota, Speculum 91/1 (January 2016)

'This is a gem of a monograph and will be of great value to its readers. Despite its deceptively narrow focus on a single liturgical occasion, it has interesting and important things to say about an exceptionally wide range of genres. In terms of literary material, Kramer analyzes both poetry and prose, including homilies, hymns and charms, well-known texts and rarities, chronologically ranging from the eighth century to the twelfth, with coverage also of the Biblical and patristic backgrounds.'
Christine Rauer, University of St Andrews, Journal of English and German Philology, Volume 115, Number 2, April 2016

'Many of the great studies of Anglo-Saxon literary culture are highly liminal undertakings, moving as they do along the boundaries of the various disciplines that make up our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon world. Kramer's Between Earth and Heaven is an exemplary specimen of this tradition. It expertly straddles the line between literature and theology, shows an excellent understanding of its Latin and Old English sources, makes cautious but generally compelling inferences about the popular practice of religion, and adduces evidence in support of its thesis from the visual arts. Composed in an eloquent prose that never distracts from its message, Between Earth and Heaven is a valuable contribution to the field both for its original insights and as a proof of method.'
P. S. Langeslag, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Anglia 134, 2016

'With the reader being at every turn clearly directed through its central argument, this book analyses a number of texts which, though diverse in genre and era, are complementary in their theological focus. Kramer has made an important contribution to the study of Anglo-Saxon literature and its role in transmitting belief, not only through her persuasive arguments, but also through her methodology and emphasis on lived religion, crossing over the artificial boundaries of period and genre.'
Kate Thomas, University of York, Review of English Studies February 2015

'Johanna Kramer's lucidly written Between Earth and Heaven: Liminality and the Ascension of Christ in Anglo-Saxon Literature makes the case for the centrality of the Ascension in Anglo-Saxon thought and religious practice. By articulating the rhetorical and theological values inherent in these texts, Kramer suggests the ways in which we might better reflect the interdisciplinary, nonhierarchical, genre-crossing practices of Anglo-Saxon peoples, advocating a scholarly methodology that embraces the liminal.'
Jordan Zweck, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Modern Philology/ (volume 114, number 3, February 2017)

'In this volume, Kramer shows what can be achieved by examining the influence of patristic material on vernacular works, particularly anonymous 'popular' texts, and by applying cultural anthropology to religious material. Between Earth and Heaven makes a useful contribution to the field, particularly by demonstrating the value of reading across genres to gain a more complete picture of Anglo-Saxon attitudes.'
Helen Appleton, St Hilda's College, Oxford

'The book is meticulously produced.It will no doubt be widely read and often cited in the years to come, and will be particularly welcome to anyone interested in the influence and development of patristic theology and the history of religious observance in Anglo-Saxon England.'
Daniel Thomas, Wadham College, Oxford



Southeastern Medieval Association Award for the best first book 2016


1. Biblical sources, patristic authorities, and the development of Ascension theology
2. God's footprints: Material symbolism in the Old English Martyrology and Blickling Homily 11
3. Gateway to salvation: Ascension theology in liminal spaces
4. Walking towards heaven: Boundary rituals, community, and Ascension theology in homilies for Rogationtide
5. The liminal Christ in Anglo-Saxon art


Johanna Kramer is Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri

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