Saint Bede was a church historian who recorded the history of Christianity in England up to his own time. He is widely regarded as the greatest of all the Anglo-Saxon scholars. his most famous writing was on theology and history and his best known work is The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He was probably born around 673 in Northumbria, likelysomewhere in NE England near Jarrow or Monkton.
When he was seven, Bede was sent to St. Benedict Biscop (January 12) at the monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth to be educated and raised. Then he was sent to the new monastery of St. Paul founded at Jarrow in 682, where he remained until his death. There he was guided by the abbot St. Ceolfrith (September 25).
There is an incident in the anonymous Life of Ceolfrith which may refer to the young Bede. A plague swept through Ceolfrith’s monastery in 686, taking most of the monks who sang in the choir for the church services. Only the abbot and a young boy raised and educated by him remained. This young boy “is now a priest of the same monastery and commends the abbot’s admirable deeds both verbally and in writing to all who desire to learn them.”
St Bede was ordained as a deacon when he was 19, and to the holy priesthood at the age of 30 by St. John of Beverley (May 7), the holy Bishop of Hexham (687), and later (705) of York. Bede had a great love for the church services, and believed that since the angels were present with the monks during the services, that he should also be there. “What if they do not find me among the brethren when they assemble? Will they not say, ‘Where is Bede?’
Bede began as a pupil of St Benedict Biscop, who had been a monk of the famous monastery at Lerins (left), and had founded monasteries himself. St Benedict had brought many books with him to England from Lerins and from other European monasteries. This library enabled Bede to write his own books, which include biblical commentary, ecclesiastical history, and hagiography.
Bede was not an objective historian. He is squarely on the Roman side in the debate with Celtic Christianity, for example. He was, however, fair and thorough. His books, derived from “ancient documents, from the traditions of our ancestors, and from my own personal knowledge” (Book V, 24) give us great insight into the religious and secular life of early Britain. To read St Bede is to enter a world shaped by spiritual traditions very similar to those cherished by Orthodox Christians. These saints engage in the same heroic asceticism shown by saints in the East, and their holiness fills us with love and admiration. Christians were expected to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, and there was a 40 day Nativity Fast (Book IV, 30).
St Bede became ill in 735. For about two weeks before Pascha, he was weak and had trouble breathing, but experienced little pain. He remained cheerful and gave daily lessons to his students, then spent the rest of the day singing Psalms and giving thanks to God. He would often quote the words of St Ambrose, “I have not lived in such a way that I am ashamed to live among you, and I do not fear to die, for God is gracious” (Paulinus, Life of Saint Ambrose, Ch. 45).
After a sleepless night, St Bede continued his dictation on Wednesday morning. At the Third Hour, there was a procession with the relics of the saints in the monastery, and the brethren went to attend this service, leaving a monk named Wilbert with Bede. The monk reminded him that there remained one more chapter to be written in the book which he was dictating. Wilbert was reluctant to disturb the dying Bede, however. St Bede said, “It is no trouble. Take your pen and write quickly.”
At the Ninth Hour, Bede paused and told Wilbert that he had some items in his chest, such as pepper, incense, and linen. He asked the monk to bring the priests of the monastery so that he could distribute these items to them. When they arrived, he spoke to each of them in turn, requesting them to pray for him and to remember him in the services. Then he said, “The time of my departure is at hand, and my soul longs to see Christ my King in His beauty.”
After chanting, “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit” to its ending, St Bede fell asleep in the Lord Whom he had loved.
Although St Bede reposed on May 25, the eve of the Ascension, he is commemorated on the 27th, since the Feast of St Augustine of Canterbury is appointed for the 26th. His body was first buried in the south porch of the monastery church, then later transferred to a place near the altar. Today his holy relics lie in Durham Cathedral, in the Galilee chapel. St Bede is the only Englishman mentioned by Dante in the DIVINE COMEDY (Paradiso).
Bede's tomb in Durham Cathedral
He is the patron saint of English (British) writers, and historians.