Holiness in Old English: The Construction of the Sacred in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints

Penelope Scott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The designation of spaces, objects, and people as sacred is a cross-cultural phenomenon, yet the conceptual category of the sacred differs across cultures in terms of how it is constructed and how it interacts with other cultural models. This paper examines the construction of the sacred in Anglo-Saxon hagiographies from a cognitive perspective. The article methodologically brings together close-reading of Ælfric’s Lives of Saints with consideration of the sub-senses of halig ‘holy’, and is theoretically informed by Cultural Linguistics and Cognitive approaches to religion. Paden (in: Idinopulos & Yonan (eds), The sacred and its scholars: Comparative methodologies for the study of primary religious data, Brill, Leiden, 1996) notes that for much of the history of comparative religious studies, the ‘mana’ model has prevailed in descriptions of the concept of sacrality. While he concedes that this model is representative of the sacred in many cultures, he contends that another is at least as important, which he terms the ‘sacred-order’ model. The sacred, in this second model, stands not in opposition to the mundane but to that which breaks the boundaries between the sacred and the profane. This paper details the construction of the sacred in terms of image schemas, conceptual metaphors and cultural schemas and argues that while the ‘mana’ and ‘sacred-order’ models of sacrality exist in Old English, the two models are interconnected and form part of a larger complex cultural model in which space is at the centre.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-566
Number of pages20
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Anglo-Saxon England
  • Cognition
  • Holiness
  • Old English
  • Sacrality
  • Senses

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