By Stephen J. Harris
I have the honour to have in my web site the prestigious contibution of prof. Stephen J. Harris, assistant professor of the University of Massachesetts, and author with Scott Degregorio of the web site http://www.bede.net/umass.html. A page in english, so my site will seems as a conference on Medieval studies, where every speaks in his own one's mother tongue.
Bede, or Baeda in Old English, was born about 672 or 673 A.D. in Northumbria, an Anglian kingdom north of the river Humber. He was probably not of noble birth. At age seven, kinsmen delivered him to the nearby gates of the monastery at Wearmouth, located at the mouth of the river Wear.
When Bede arrived at Wearmouth in about 680, he was introduced to a version of the Benedictine Rule. Benedict Biscop, who had founded the monastery at Wearmouth in 674, established in 681 a monastery nearby at Jarrow at the mouth of the river Tyne. Bede moved there with about twenty monks and continued his service and education under the guidance of Abbot Ceolfrith. At age nineteen, he was ordained a deacon (an office usually reserved for those twenty-five or older), and at thirty, a priest. Bede remained at the twin monasteries of Wearmouth-Jarrow his entire life. He is thought to have left the monastery only twice, once on a trip to Lindisfarne, another time on a trip toYork, but if he made these excursions or others, we have no evidence.
The author of the Life of Ceolfrith writes that in 686, when Bede was about twelve, a plague visited Jarrow and wiped out all the monks except for a young boy and Abbot Ceolfrith. It is possible that the young boy in this account is Bede. Piously, the two survivors trained lay brethren to chant in order that the monastery might continue its sung devotion to God. This piety is characteristic of Bede's life, and is exemplified especially in the story of his death.
Bede's piety is legion. But he was also very well
educated. He learned calligraphy in the scriptorium, grammar, computus, music,
and something of the natural sciences. But he was especially learned about
Scripture. Bede's teacher, T(r)unberht, laid in him a firm foundation of
Biblical and Patristic learning. After his ordination and until he was 59, Bede
produced extensive commentaries on the books of Scripture.
These circulated locally, and after his death, Bede was recognized internationally for his work. Bede was named a doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in recognition of his work and piety.
Bede also produced two major histories of his age, and has thereby become known as "the father of English history." The History of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow is an important source for ecclesiastical history, but perhaps his most popular work has been The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Bede was also a poet and wrote poems in both Old English and Latin. All told, he wrote some sixty books.
During Easter, 735, Bede showed signs of breathlessness. Cuthbert, a deacon and later abbot of Wearmouth and Jarrow, writes in his description of Bede's last days that Bede was cheerful and pious even to the last. On Tuesday, 24 May, 735, Bede fell grievously ill. Nevertheless, he continued giving lessons. He cheerfully reminded his students to learn their lessons quickly since he might not be there long.
On Wednesday, Bede taught until nine in the morning. He then dictated part of a book he was translating until three in the afternoon, at which point he called to have the priests of the monastery come and recieve from him his few possessions. In the evening, which was 26 May (since the day, according to Genesis, is comprised of the evening and the day) and Ascension Day, Bede died. His feast day, once celebrated on 27 May, is now celebrated by the Roman Church on 25 May.
Brown, George Hardin. Bede the Venerable. Boston: Twayne, 1987.
Hunter Blair, Peter. The World of Bede. (1970) Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Ward, Benedicta. The Venerable Bede. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1990.
Stephen J. Harris
Department of English
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003
413-545-6598 (fax 413-545-3880)
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