A major reinterpretation of the religious superstate that came to define both Europe and Christianity itself, by one of our foremost medieval historians.
In the fourth century AD, a new faith grew out of Palestine, overwhelming the paganism of Rome and resoundingly defeating a host of other rival belief systems. Almost a thousand years later, all of Europe was controlled by Christian rulers, and the religion, ingrained within culture and society, exercised a monolithic hold over its population. But how did a small sect of isolated and intensely committed congregations become a mass movement centrally directed from Rome? As Peter Heather shows in this illuminating new history, there was nothing inevitable about Christendom's rise and eventual dominance.
From Constantine the Great's pivotal conversion to Christianity to the crisis that followed the collapse of the Roman empire—which left the religion teetering on the edge of extinction—to the astonishing revolution of the eleventh century and beyond, out of which the Papacy emerged as the head of a vast international corporation, Heather traces Christendom's chameleonlike capacity for self-reinvention, as it not only defined a fledgling religion but transformed it into an institution that wielded effective authority across virtually all of the disparate peoples of medieval Europe.
Authoritative, vivid, and filled with new insights, this is an unparalleled history of early Christianity.
About the Author
PETER HEATHER is chair of medieval history at King's College, London. His many books include The Fall of the Roman Empire, Empires and Barbarians, The Restoration of Rome, and, most recently, Rome Resurgent. He lives in London.
*Financial Times Best Books of 2022: History*
"Magesterial . . . A bold reinterpretation of faith's nascent days . . . Adequately covering a thousand years of ecclesiastical governance and personal piety demands prodigious scholarship, and Heather answers the call admirably . . . A learned, exhaustive, and spritely account of the religious goings-on wherever Masses were celebrated." —Bob Duffy, Washington Independent Review of Books
"Fresh, prodigiously researched . . . Takes readers on a wide-ranging journey through eight centuries and across the length and breadth of Europe (and beyond) to understand the rise of Christendom . . . Throughout, the author finds ways to turn conventional wisdom on its head [and] introduces a host of little-known characters who played an outsized role in Christianity’s spread." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Students of the ancient world will find refreshing new perspectives on post-Roman Empire European history that challenge the received wisdom." —Mark Knoblauch, Booklist
“[A] sweeping and engaging history . . . Full of reinterpretations and new insights . . . [Heather’s] approach makes for a startlingly fresh look at a familiar story, a non-triumphalist history of the triumph of Christianity, and his book is all the more powerful for it.” —Jane Shaw, Financial Times
“We live in a golden age of broad-ranging historical surveys written by those who know what they’re talking about. Among them, Christendom is a fine specimen.” —Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Times Literary Supplement
“A page-turner . . . It is more pressing than ever to understand how exactly Christianity came to dominate in Europe. Heather’s account cuts through the myth of an innately Christian, culturally monolithic Europe [and] sheds light on the mechanics of state coercion and intermittent violence which led to the birth of Christendom.” —Eleanor Myerson, The Spectator
“Heather casts his eye across the whole medieval period as he unfolds a fascinating story about a religion in a surprisingly precarious position.” —Dan Jones, The Sunday Times (London)
“A brilliant exercise in disenchantment . . . Superb storytelling . . . While Christendom is fabulously rich in telling detail, Heather is always mindful of the big picture. The book is at once captivating and profound.” —Costica Bradatan, The Literary Review
“Expertly and entertainingly told . . . One of the many delights of this weighty book is the abundance of little-heard but illuminating and intriguing stories that [Heather] weaves into the narrative.” —Peter Stanford, The Daily Telegraph