Changing Beliefs: The Archaeology of the East Anglian Conversion

Dr Richard Hoggett


PhD Research

Archaeology and History

OS County boundaries, historic and modern. OS PANORAMA and PROFILE DTM. OS LandLine.

Sources: Digimap, Norfolk and Suffolk Historic Environment Records

Dates/Editions: All available

Scales: Variable.

Religious studies; Anglo-Saxon studies; Bede

Early Christianity; East Anglia

Publishing Institution

School of History, University of East Anglia


From the Abstract to the thesis: This thesis explores the historical and archaeological evidence for the coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon East Anglia. In particular, it examines the mechanisms by which the new religion may have spread and assesses the speed and scale of its adoption. Part I of the thesis provides a broad context for the questions being asked of the East Anglian material, presents a critique of archaeological approaches to the study of religion and pays particular attention to the ways in which the emergence of Christianity might be recognised in the archaeological record.

Part II presents the pertinent data from Anglo-Saxon East Anglia. First, a detailed examination is made of the historical evidence, primarily the material presented by Bede in the Historia Ecclesiastica. Secondly, an exploration is presented of the various ways we might combine documentary, architectural and archaeological sources to identify Anglo-Saxon churches founded as a part of the conversion process. Finally, the East Anglian burial record, comprising some 200 Early and Middle Saxon cemeteries, is presented and analysed.

Part III of the thesis synthesises these data and uses them to give an account of the East Anglian conversion. Attention is paid to the missionary stations established by the early churchmen, many of which were sited within disused Roman enclosures or in topographically distinct locations. Of the burial rites practised during the conversion period, the cessation of cremation and the changing use of grave-goods are both shown to be particularly strong indicators of conversion, while broader consideration of the conversion-period landscape demonstrates that the conversion caused a great upheaval in the sites chosen for Anglo-Saxon cemeteries.

Part IV demonstrates that, far from being the preserve of the upper classes, the adoption of Christianity throughout the East Anglian kingdom was rapid, widespread and popular.

References and Acknowledgements

This research was funded by a postgraduate scholarship from the School of History, University of East Anglia.

Hoggett, Richard (2007). Changing beliefs: the archaeology of the East Anglian conversion. University of East Anglia, School of History, Doctoral Thesis, 419pp.

Hoggett, Richard (2010). The Archaeology of the East Anglian Conversion. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.


Selected maps from the author's PhD thesis:

Other Information

Dr Richard Hoggett is now the Community Archaeologist of Norfolk County Council. More information about his current research, publications and interests can be found here.