Henrietta Leyser’s book is a travelogue rather than a narrative. It was born from two moments of well-justified indignation. In 2007 the author took an American friend to Bede’s World at Jarrow, the museum and mock Anglo-Saxon farm built in honour of the Venerable Bede, author of The Ecclesiastical History of the English People and many other works, the greatest historian of the Middle Ages and the most learned man in 8th-century Europe, all of which he achieved from a starting point of poverty and isolation on the fringe of the Christian world. But in 2007 there was nobody there. The car park was empty. Bede’s achievement appeared, in the 21st century, to have been forgotten even in the place he made famous.
A year later Leyser was at the other end of England, this time on the trail of St Wilfrid, Bede’s contemporary, who converted Sussex to Christianity and established a monastery at Selsey. In 2008 no one in Selsey had ever heard of him. There was at least an excuse, for the centre of Selsey had shifted: the site of the old monastery was perhaps at Church Norton a couple