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The Private Lives of the Saints: Power, Passion and Politics in Anglo-Saxon England

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  194 ratings  ·  28 reviews
Skulduggery, power struggles and politics, The Private Lives of the Saints offers an original and fascinating re-examination of life in Anglo-Saxon England. Taking them from their heavenly status to the human level, Oxford art historian and BBC presenter Dr Janina Ramirez explores the real lives of over a dozen seminal saints.

This landmark book provides a unique and captiv
Published August 27th 2015 by Virgin Digital (first published July 2nd 2015)
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Start your review of The Private Lives of the Saints: Power, Passion and Politics in Anglo-Saxon England
An enticing and cosy little book, but not altogether convincing. It is a saintly version of In search of the dark ages, Songs of Praise on the road through history, tenish saints as spotlights to illuminate(view spoiler), if you can pardon the pun, the way through the dark ages. It is, perhaps predictably for a British book, an insular work visiting Skellig Michael, Iona, Lindesfarne ...more
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dr Janina Ramirez, now quite well acknowledged as a Television historian and broadcaster over the past decade or so, crafts a history of the most well known Anglo-Saxon and Celtic Christian Saints, starting from the fourth century right up until the eleventh century AD, in a period commonly known as the 'Dark Ages', due to a lack of written records of this time, a confusing era of British history with very limited sources (apart from the venerable Bede, and without him we would have less source ...more
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, history, religion
A fascinating book about several saints from Anglo-Saxon times. I've tagged it as 'religion' but it wears its religion very lightly.

Really, it's a romp through several hundred years of Anglo-Saxon cultural history using the lives of these saints as a device.

Clever approach, because, apart from a very few kings, it's these saints that are the most well known people of that era. And, in a sense, it's all about St Bede (or the Venerable Bede).

I'm an atheist and didn't find the religious element j
Duncan Wilson
Feb 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It has to be said that Dr Janina Ramirez’s books has a slightly misleading title… but it is fascinating and informative read nonetheless.
This book primarily focuses on ten saints spanning between the fourth and tenth centuries and placing them within the context of their environments. Focusing on events that influenced them or that they I turn influenced. It also highlights what a diverse and complex history the British Isles has. As she states in the last chapter: “there is no history of the En
Nov 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
An interesting book in places, but vague in others. It would have been helpful to clarify that the author was using 'saint' to refer to those venerated as such by their contemporaries and immediate successors, rather than the (officially canonised) saints we recognise today, at the start of the book rather than the end - starting the chapter on Bede by explaining that he is not generally viewed as a saint gives the appearance that the author has forgotten the topic on which they're writing.
Jane Walker
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is an interesting way of tackling Anglo-Saxon history. Ramirez puts the saints in the cultural and religious context of their time to show the development of Christianity and its influence on politics, the arts and everything else. Very little is known about some of these characters but it doesn't really matter. My one criticism is that the book feels rather padded out in places. ...more
Aug 07, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 / 5

It is my innate liking of Anglo-Saxon Britain which makes me rate this at 3.5/5 rather than any particular strength of the book. Indeed, I think that while it is an illuminating look into many people who otherwise do not get a deserved mention in more secular histories, the look into every individual here is quite shallow and generally based on a well-known story or feature. Rarely do we encounter even a conjecture of what their "private" life was like, and even where the author's mention
Red Dog
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really good book about the Anglo-Saxon period, as told via the frame of the rock stars of their day, the saints. I really enjoyed Ramírez's take on the evidence, and was particularly interested to learn how Bede consigned the raven, as a key supporting figure in Anglo-Saxon pagan folklore, to the dustbin of mythological history with simple flick of his editorial quill when reviewing the bible story of Noah in a translated manuscript.

If I have any criticism of the book, it's one that I realise
Tony Summer
Mar 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
It took me longer than I expected to read this because it is very badly written, in the customary humanities style of today, i.e., too much verbiage, ‘in terms of,’ ‘in the context of,’ poorly constructed sentences, and several clichés on every page. The bad writing is not only a distraction from the content; it often obscures it. Sometimes she expresses herself so poorly that I don’t know what the hell she is trying to say; other times she will enunciate the same thought (often a banality) up t ...more
Becca Edney
Apr 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A good book in principle, about an interesting subject, but unfortunately it was very shallow on detail. I understand that for a lot of people there's not a lot of detail available, but it still felt very much like I was just getting my teeth into the story of one person when the next was introduced. The overall effect was rather unsatisfying.

In particular, there were several occasions when a section purported to be about a particular saint, but the majority of it was about other historical figu
Nov 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From Alban, beheaded by his fellow Romans, to Edward the Confessor, whose death brought Anglo-Saxon England crashing to an end, this is the story of those people of Anglo-Saxon England who walked the line between earth and heaven. How the saints described were real people, like you or I, who confronted real dilemmas, and had real impact on the lives of others. It is through them that the story of early medieval Britain can be told from a fresh perspective.
Dec 26, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Found it really hard going. Didn't hold my attention which is unusual as anything to do with Anglo Saxon history normally does. Seems to wander off the title topic somewhat. Chapters about certain saints would only mention them briefly to begin with & then discuss certain manuscripts or artwork in detail instead. Love her on TV, not so enthusiastic over this book. ...more
Simon Binning
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 750-1500-history
For me, this book proved to be something of a mixed bag. For a start, its sub-title - Power, Passion and Politics in Anglo-Saxon England - gives a much more accurate description of what the book is actually about. I know that the author is passionate about her subject; I have enjoyed her work on TV. But it is that very passion that hangs rather awkwardly over this book.
What it is, is a rather good assessment of the development of the church in England (with nods to the rest of the British Isles
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Ramirez quotes Balzac at the end of this highly enlightening work, who states that "What a splendid book one could put together by narrating the life and adventure of a word." This book does a wonderful job of beginning a study of the word "saint," I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Ramirez lecture last summer at Oxford(when the world was slightly more normal) where I continued taking graduate courses in Literature and her lecture inspired me to consider combining literature, archeology, and his ...more
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
The contents are sadly not much to do with the title or sub title. The chapters start with a very short piece about the saint in question before descending into long rambling over detailed monologues about various items of jewellery, treasure or manuscripts. The author spends much time discussing the Sutton Hoo burial and it suggests it being some form of pagan snub to Christianity.
I finished the book but was bored with it half way through and felt it just didn’t deliver on any level.
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dr J does it again

It will be a chilly day in the afterlife, when Dr J writes a book I don't love, and The Private Lives of Saints has maintained that status quo.

I did find the book a slow and heavy read, but it was also fascinating and informative and brought to life names of saints I'd been aware of since childhood and illuminated the rise of monastic life in the early mediaeval period.

Overall this is a fascinating book, suitable for scholars and not, which touches on an important but often ign
Richard Olney
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As generally speaking anything about the "Dark Ages" is right up my street, i suppose i was always going to like this book. But i think i enjoyed it more than i thought i was going to. Much more than focusing on the lives of the Saints, it takes the life and times of those individuals as bases to elaborate on the period during which each Saint lived.

As i enjoyed it so much i'm going to read it again, the fiction i was going to read next can wait!
J Grimsey
Sep 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
A highly interesting and engaging book which avoids the Hagiographic reputations of these Saints without sneering at them. The significance of the history of the time and the characterisation of Bede as Spin Doctor but admired founding father of British written history is very enjoyable. Could modern prejudices mean that St Hilda is especially revered perhaps balancing the down playing of her role for many centuries. I'm not sure. ...more
Amy Suzanna
Jan 31, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
It has taken me a long time to read this book, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t find it fascinating. Engagingly written, Ramirez uses what can be discovered about the actual lives of the saints and explores the context they were living in. I just had an unfortunate tendency to pick it up when I was cosy and all too tempted to nap!!
Helen Birkbeck
What there is here is interesting enough but, as the author admits, so much about these people is unknown that there are lots of gaps and suppositions. I enjoy watching her on TV so was disappointed by her somewhat sloppy use of grammar and her sentence structure; I sort of expected an Oxford graduate to use 'in terms of' correctly! ...more
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm deeply impressed by the author's ability to deduce so much from what appears to be insubstantial information. Until I read this book, I thought a saint was a saint; now I realise there's a lot more to it. ...more
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Quite interesting

The lives (not hagiographies) of prominent saints and nearly saints is an interesting thread to hang an overview of Anglo Saxon society on, and it was educational to view the period from a different angle.
Mr. Bernard Bracken
A wonderful enlightening book

Really enjoyed reading this book. It brings to life the real people behind the names and explains how some dubious characters have been named saints.
Dec 29, 2015 rated it liked it
A really interesting look at this historical period.
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Marion Godden
rated it it was amazing
Jan 16, 2020
Russell Short
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Janina Sara María Ramírez (née Maleczek; 7 July 1980), sometimes credited as Nina Ramírez, is a British art and cultural historian and TV presenter, based in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. She specialises in interpreting symbols and examining works of art, within their own historical context.

Ramírez went to school in Slough. She gained a degree in English literature, specialising in Old and Middle Englis

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