St Paul in Jarrow. 2022.

The monastery of St Paul was founded within the kingdom of Northumbria during the last decades of the 7th century CE, in the context of a new radical interplay between landscape management and Christianity. At the time, the early medieval kingdom of Northumbria – Norþanhymbre in the Anglian language, literally meaning an administrative region north of the river Humber – was ruled by Ecgfrith. According to Bede’s writings, Northumbrian people descended from the Angles who crossed the North Sea from the Continent and established themselves in Britain.

Landscape management and army were deeply intertwined in pre-Christian Northumbria. In all probability, land was not private and was managed by whoever became king. Royal estates were given to subjects in exchange for military service but could not be inherited by descendants and eventually returned to the king after the death of the beneficiary. With the introduction of charters and the spread of Christianity, lands began to be granted in perpetuity on the condition that the beneficiaries established a monastic community on the possession.

This is the scenario of the first foundations of Northumbrian monasteries, which started in the 7th century. Some decades later, Bede lamented that too many aristocrats were inheriting former royal estates without even establishing monasteries, in this way detracting potential lands for the army and dramatically affecting the defence of the kingdom.

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