Book of Life


  • Intro

    The purpose of a 'Book of Life' (or Liber Vitae), was to record the names of members and friends of monasteries or convents: the belief was that these names would also appear in the heavenly book opened on the Day of Judgement. Some lists from religious houses are neat and well-ordered, but this page – from the Liber Vitae of the New Minster, Winchester – has a distinctly cluttered appearance, with several different inks and scripts. It is evidently a ‘work in progress’, clearly conveying the dynamic role that this text played in the monastery’s daily life.


    There is a big social difference between the names in the centre, all classically Anglo-Saxon, and those in the left margin, where we see the impact of a post-Conquest society: Ricardus (Richard), Baldwin, Simon, Roger, William – all names associated with a new Norman social elite, and reflecting the cultural shift that was beginning to distance England from its Germanic past. Few of the Anglo-Saxon names are still in use today. They all had a meaning, outlined below, which was doubtless of great significance to the bearer.


    Æþelbald - noble and bold
    Cenhelm - brave helmet
    Dunstan - black stone
    Ealdred - old advisor
    Ethelred - noble counsel
    Godric - power of God
    Hroðgar - famous spear
    Leofric - beloved ruler
    Sigeweard - victory guard
    Wulfgar - wolf spear


    Ælfgifu - elf gift
    Æþelthryth - noble strength
    Branda - sword
    Eadburga - rich fortress
    Ealdgyð - old battle
    Frideswide - peace strong
    Geodgifu - gift of God
    Hildred - battle counsel
    Mildryth - gentle strength
    Sunngifu - sun-gift

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