The Conversion of Europe

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9780002552035: The Conversion of Europe

The story of how Europe was converted to Christianity from 300AD until the barbarian Lithuanians finally capitulated at the astonishingly late date of 1386. It is an epic tale from one of the most gifted historians of today.

This remarkable book examines the conversion of Europe to the Christian faith in the period following the collapse of the Roman Empire to approximately 1300 when the hegemony of the Holy Roman Empire was firmly established.

One of the book’s great strengths is the degree to which it shows how little was inevitable about this process, how surrounded by uncertainties. What was the origin of the missionary impulse? Who were the activists who engaged in this work – the toilsome, often unrewarding, sometimes dangerous work of evangelisation, and how did they set about putting over this faith? How did a structure of ecclesiastical government come into being? Above all, at what point can one say that an individual or a society has become Christian? Fletcher’s range, lucidity and mastery of his sources brings the answers to these and many other questions as far within our grasp as they probably ever can be.

Like Alan Bullock and Simon Schama, Fletcher is a historian with the true gift of a storyteller and a wide general readership ahead of him.

Fletcher’s previous book, The Quest for El Cid won both the Wolfson History Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award for History. This book is even better – the most impressive achievement so far of this strikingly gifted historian.

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Review:

On The Quest for El Cid:

‘The best book on Spain I have ever read… Combining readability and investigative scholarship of the highest order. ’
Raymond Carr, Spectator Books of the Year

‘Written with dash and fluency… The scholarly contexts he provides are as masterly as his elegant readings of Moorish poetry.’
Jonathan Keates, Observer

‘Enthralling… Mr Fletcher’s quest is recounted with great verve and sensitivity. A major achievement.’
Ian Gibson, New York Times Book Review

From the Back Cover:

The Emperor Constantine was baptised into the Christian church on his deathbed by Eusebius, Bishop of Nicodemia in 337 AD. We assume that the religious character of his empire and the states which set themselves up as its successors was thereby settled forever. But it was not in fact without many vicissitudes, and until almost exactly a millennium later – in 1386, with the baptism of Grand Duke Jogaila of the Lithuanians – that Europe became, at least nominally, a completely Christian continent. The epic story of the conversion of Europe over that millennium – the first, greatest and still most successful of all European integrations – is the subject of this book.

One of the book’s strengths is the degree to which it shows how little was inevitable about this process, how surrounded by uncertainties. What was the origin of the missionary impulse? (Why did Gregory the Great send a mission to convert the English? Who sent Patrick to Ireland?) Who were the activists who engaged in the work – the toilsome, often unrewarding, sometimes dangerous work – of evangelization, and how did they set about putting over their faith? Was it a condition of success that these missionaries worked with the secular power, or could they work outside it? How did a structure of ecclesiastical government come into being? Above all, at what point can one say that an individual or society has become properly Christian? Richard Fletcher’s range, lucidity and mastery of his sources (whose frequent silences and ambiguities – one of the most interesting aspects of the book – he shares with us) bring the answers to these and many other questions as far within our grasp as they probably ever can be.

In the opening chapter Fletcher writes, ‘The growth of Christendom decisively affected the character of European society and culture and thereby, because of European dominance in human affairs for several centuries before the twentieth, the civilisation of our world. That is why the coming of Christianity to Europe is worth examining, and why this book has been written.’ His account of that coming of Christianity is the most impressive achievement so far of this strikingly gifted historian.

Richard Fletcher is the author of 'St James’s Catapult, Moorish Spain' and 'The Quest for El Cid' which won both the Wolfson History Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award for History. He teaches at the University of York.

FROM THE REVIEWS FOR 'THE QUEST FOR EL CID'
Winner of the Wolfson Prize for History Book of the Year and the Los Angeles Times History Prize

“The gift of spotting the book that needs to be written is uncommon. The gift of making a work of source criticism readable and enjoyable is very rare. Fletcher has both.”
ERIC CHRISTIANSEN, 'Independent'

“The best book on Spain I have ever read … Combining readability and investigative scholarship of the highest order. A remarkable achievement.”
RAYMOND CARR, 'Spectator Books of the Year'

“Richard Fletcher disentangles with high style and scholarly punctilio the legends and history that swathe this ambiguous hero.”
PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR

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