The great missionary figures were crucial to their own time and to posterity. They brought Christian belief and culture to the pagan societies of Dark Age Europe. Tribal and nomadic societies were propelled out of the forest and the plain into a 'civilised' world that carried the genes of the Roman imperial past. The missionaries were crucial too, because of the record they and their correspondents left of the cultures they transformed. The work of St Augustine in England is just one example. The missionaries were not only agents of change, they were also some of Europe's first historians.The christianisation of Western Europe is also a central feature of its history. The main outlines of the process are well known, but they are derived from historians and hagiographers who were rarely concerned with impartiality. This book takes account of the purposes of past history-writers, approaching the history of mission through a study of the authors of our sources. It shows that mission only became a main theme of historical writing in the eighth century, and much of what was written emerges as pious fiction or, sometimes, patent absurdity.
As a result, early missionary activity has been misrepresented and undervalued. This book also studies the way in which missionaries wrote about their own difficulties in the field, bringing us as close as we can get to understanding their personalities. Anyone who has read Ian Wood's equally ambitious and compelling survey 'The Merovingian Kingdoms, 451-1050', will rediscover his ability to bring a remote age to life. The unreliable history of the missionary life is disentangled to produce a uniquely wide-ranging account - giving a sense of the individual experience and collective ethos of the mission, the missionaries' influence on communities and their links to the rest of Christendom. Ian Wood is Professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Leeds.