Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People: An Introduction and Selection 1441177124, 9781441177124

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Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People: An Introduction and Selection
 1441177124, 9781441177124

Table of contents :
Part One
Introduction by Rowan Williams
Further reading
Part Two
Selected texts from The Ecclesiastical History of the EnglishPeople, translated by Benedicta Ward SLG
Index of Names and Places

Citation preview

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People An Introduction and Selection by

Rowan Williams and Benedicta Ward SLG

First published in Great Britain 2012 Copyright © Rowan Williams and Benedicta Ward The moral right of the author has been asserted No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the Publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. Every reasonable effort has been made to trace copyright holders of material reproduced in this book, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the Publishers would be glad to hear from them. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP Bloomsbury Publishing, London, Berlin, New York and Sydney A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: 978-1-4411-7712-4 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN

Dedication In loving memory of Donald Allchin: Ante omnia diuinae caritatis igne feruidus, patientiae uirtute modestus, orationum deuotioni sollertissime intentus, adfabilis omnibus qui ad se consolationis gratia ueniebant. Above all, he was aflame with the fire of divine love, unassuming in his patience, eager and practised in his devotion to prayer, kind and courteous to all who came to him for spiritual comfort. Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Book IV.26 [28]


Part One Introduction by Rowan Williams  1 Further reading  33 Part Two Selected texts from The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, translated by Benedicta Ward SLG  35 Index of Names and Places  171

Part one

Introduction Rowan Williams

1.  Bede’s context and purpose Between 400 and 700ce, the cultural and political complexion of Western Europe changed dramatically. By 700, there was no ‘superpower’ in the region; the Roman Empire in the West had dissolved, and no single political unit had replaced it.1 The Emperor in Constantinople represented a nominal continuity, but he had no direct political control west of the Adriatic (although he and the culture he embodied could still exercise a very strong imaginative pull, as the history of the ninth and tenth centuries in Western Europe would show). Rome was now above all the city in which the Pope resided, the focus of Church life in a Europe where Christianity


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

was an expanding and massively energetic force. The papacy might not be a political power in the conventional sense, but — even more than the Eastern empire — it was the authoritative resource for images and ideas through which to understand what was happening in and to the emerging kingdoms of the West. The Church offered these new kingdoms a repertoire of stories against which they could measure themselves, a sense of being part of an unfolding universal drama, the possibility of establishing stable authority grounded in the law of God and the blessing of God’s agents on earth. The peoples, the gentes, of Europe could clothe themselves in the dignity of the chosen people of God. Bede’s great work, the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, completed in 731 in the monastery of Wearmouth where he had lived since 680 when he was seven, announces in its very title something of what this project meant. This is a Church history of the ‘Anglian’ people; it is about how a gens acquired a meaningful history by being incorporated into the Church. There is not much point in arguing over whether Bede meant Angli to include all the Germanic settlers in Britain or only the northern groups among whom he lived: his own usage is in fact often unclear as to who exactly the Angli are, and he has plenty to say about those parts of Britain settled by people who did not call themselves by this name. What matters is that, whatever precise name any group has been given or given itself, there is now a single coherent story to be told about the newcomers to Britain, designated in I.15 by the familiar names of ‘Saxons, Angles and Jutes’. Providence has brought them to Britain, and the vocation they all share is to establish, in this most remote area of the known world (Bede underlines many times the distance between Britain and the



rest of Europe), the true Christian faith. This faith, Bede well knows, had arrived long before in Britain (he reproduces the legend of a second-century mission and conversion),2 and had produced saints and martyrs – like Alban, whose story Bede relates in detail.3 But the British Christians have proved unstable: like the Athenians in the biblical Acts of the Apostles, they ‘always delight in hearing something new’ (I.8), and have been an easy prey for heresies. Furthermore, the withdrawal of Roman troops from Britain in the early fifth century left the island isolated and weakened, ravaged by plague and piracy; yet the intervals of relative prosperity saw only an increase in luxury, corruption and strife. It pleased God to punish this betrayal of Christian discipleship by the violent revolts of the Germanic mercenaries invited in to help against the barbarians of the North and West; like the Babylonians sacking Jerusalem, the mercenaries enact God’s judgement upon their former British masters (I.14–15). And so the stage is set for the Great Reversal, the coup de théâtre of God’s grace, that will turn the foreign heathens into the true inheritors of the divine promise. In this light, we can better understand why Bede repeatedly complains at the reluctance of British Christians to preach the gospel to their new neighbours (see, for example, I.22 and, most famously, II.2, where the British bishops refuse to collaborate in the mission of Augustine). This reluctance is not only unchristian in itself; it is a matter of resisting divine providence, which has brought the Angli to Britain so that the furthest ends of the earth may again be populated with true believers. Bede, like Augustine of Hippo, is sceptical of any attempt to fix the date of the Second Coming of Christ;4 but he does share the assumption that the spread of the gospel to the ends of the


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

earth is a necessary (albeit insufficient) condition for the coming of the End. British churlishness about mission to the invaders is not just a regrettable dog-in-the-manger attitude but an obstacle to the final consummation of human history. And it is in this light that Bede interprets the divergences of practice between the British or Irish Churches and the ‘Roman’ Church. What may seem to a later eye to be minor differences have to be understood in maximalist terms, as the mark of a fundamental departure from orthodoxy, even if it is not always necessarily culpable. Given that they live so far from the centre of things, the British and Irish clergy know no better; sin and blame enter in only when they refuse to accept the instruction of those who represent the truth. Thus the focal disagreement between British- or Irish- and Roman-educated clergy about how to calculate the date of Easter, a subject to which Bede returns obsessively, becomes a confrontation between those who do and those who do not accept the authority of Scripture, even between those who do and those who do not accept the necessity for salvation of the passion and resurrection of Jesus. This is spelled out eloquently in Bede’s account of the debates at the Synod of Whitby in 664 (III.25) and in the long, complex and intense letter sent by Ceolfrith, abbot of Bede’s own monastery, to the Pictish king Nechtan, probably around 710, which Bede reproduces in V.21 – a letter that he himself may have helped to draft. In this sort of argument, British and Irish error is implicitly assimilated to Jewish resistance to the new revelation of the gospel and also to the most notorious heresy associated with the region, the teaching of Pelagius in the early fifth century which was held to deny the necessity of saving grace. Bypassing the details of the argument, Bede’s chief goal



is very clear. The opposition between the British and Irish Churches and those who follow Roman practice is an opposition between people who obey the Lord’s calling and people who refuse it. This is worked out in several parallel ways. The repeated reference to the remoteness of Britain and the powerful narrative of the near complete desertion of Britain by the Roman armies early in the fifth century, combined with small signals like Bede’s use of the Latin urbs to describe the Anglian royal capital (III.16),5 imply that the British are outside the normative, civic world – the ‘normative’ world that was once identical with the Roman Empire and is now identical with Roman Christianity. The comparison of the bloodthirsty pagan Northumbrian king Aethelfrith with the biblical Saul (I.34) implies that the Germanic settlers (even while still heathen) are the new Israel and the British (even though they call themselves Christian) are the Canaanites and Philistines whom the chosen people must exterminate. And the arguments already mentioned about the date of Easter cast the British and their allies as the old Israel versus the new, the true Church. As we shall see later, this is a deliberate undermining of the British Christian self-image as Bede knew it, and gives to the whole of the Historia a quite distinctive energy and focus. Other Christian scholars were beginning to write histories of the new kingdoms in Europe,6 but none of them has a comparably bold theme. In other texts, we can see how the doings of ‘barbarian’ peoples and their rulers were organized and judged within the framework of Scripture; but for Bede, the church history of the Anglian gens is the story of how scriptural history, both Old and New Testament, came to be replayed in one particular corner of Europe, with the displacement of unfaithful Canaan by faithful Israel and the


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

subsequent replacement of faithless Israel by the true Church. This is just about the most sharply marked example possible of how the new kingdoms could be brought into the world of Christian and biblical discourse. It is this background that must qualify the kind of judgement once regularly made about Bede – that he treats his sources and materials in the manner of a ‘modern’ historian.7 He would have been baffled by such a verdict. He is first and foremost a theological writer of history, whose purpose is to show how God’s providential design appears in human affairs, and how the moral and imaginative norms of scriptural narrative give us a comprehensive framework in which to interpret past and current events. But what the misdirected compliment does recognize is that he is a painstaking and serious reader of what is before him and is concerned to gather dependable material. His introductory dedication to King Ceolwulf lays out with great care and clarity the methods he used to assemble such material. To deny him the anachronistic dignity of a modern historian is not to say that he is uncritical, superstitious, unreliable or manipulative. But what he has in common with a modern historian is simply that he frames what he is not sure of within the boundaries of what he is sure about; and he is sure about the all-embracing character of the biblical story and about living in the last days of the world. The vast bulk of his written work was commentary on the Bible8 – commentary that is outstanding among the products of his own century; and his reputation as an exponent of computus, the charting of dates and the working out of when ecclesiastical festivals should be held, was second to none.9 He was acknowledged — quite justly — as probably the foremost European Christian intellectual of his generation largely



because of his expertise in these fields. His histories — not only the Historia ecclesiastica but other works such as his life of St Cuthbert and the history of the abbots of his own monastery — are part of a greater intellectual enterprise, the unfolding of God’s purpose in creation itself, in the progression of natural times and seasons, as well as in the sacred history which the Bible relates and the Church celebrates and re-enacts in its liturgy.

2. Methods and sources How, then, does he set about his task? As we have noted already, he catalogues the material he has used in his dedicatory letter to the Northumbrian king. He distinguishes between what he has digested from earlier writers and what he has pulled together by his own initiative, and he describes how he made use of the networks of a clerical élite dispersed throughout Britain. He summarizes the historians who have dealt with the early history of Britain; he collects the memories preserved in Canterbury of the first days of Augustine’s mission from Rome at the end of the sixth century and commissions a friend to do further research in the papal archives; and he consults a variety of local bishops and prominent monasteries about the histories of their churches. In the text itself, he distinguishes frequently between what he has heard ‘related’ or what so-and-so ‘was accustomed to tell’ and what he has found in a written source; and it is this kind of carefulness that won him such applause from an earlier generation of modern scholars. He himself hardly ever left the monastery he had entered at the age of seven, the great community at the mouth of


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

the river Wear split between the two sites of Wearmouth and Jarrow, seven miles apart (the general consensus is that he spent most of his time at Wearmouth, but the extensive library of the community seems to have been divided between the two sites,10 so he will have been familiar with both), although he did spend a brief time on the island of Lindisfarne and perhaps in York. Reading the later books of the Historia, we encounter a series of ‘dossiers’ – bundles of locally sourced material on the history of Paulinus’ mission in the North, on the lives of great figures like Aidan and Cuthbert and John of Beverley or about significant events at a great monastic house, like the convent at Barking. It is very much how earlier ecclesiastical historians from Eusebius in the fourth century onwards11 had worked; and what it loses in overall narrative clarity it gains in vividness. Yet, this being said, the Historia remains a profoundly coherent work; Bede holds the entire structure together by the clarity of his overall vision and the unfussy elegance of his style. This last characteristic comes through very plainly when we see how he deals with one of his important sources for the early period. Some time in the middle of the sixth century, a British writer — presumably a cleric — named Gildas wrote a lengthy polemic against the religious and secular authorities of his day under the title of de excidio Britanniae, ‘the downfall of Britain’.12 His Latin is infuriating to a degree – arch, pompous, allusive, never missing an opportunity of saying things in the most indirect and complicated way possible. Bede reproduces a good deal of Gildas in his first book, but unobtrusively cleans up the style and slightly lowers the temperature, so that we can follow what is going on without too much of the grandstanding that makes Gildas such hard going.



But in other ways Bede’s use of Gildas shows how his overall purpose shapes the way he treats sources. Gildas rebukes the British of his day in terms drawn from Scripture: like the Israelites of the Old Testament, the Christian people of God in Britain have abandoned their calling and are suffering the punishment for their sin. And, although they are ‘citizens’, cives, a word Gildas likes to use for the Christian population of Britain, God has delivered them over to the savagery of barbarians, as God delivered Israel to the Babylonians. Gildas is not claiming that the British are a chosen race, only that Christians are; neither does he see the ‘civic’, Roman dignity of the native population as threatened or negated by barbarian assault. But on both counts — as has been hinted already — Bede transforms the story. Christian Britain’s claim to be part of the new Israel is cancelled by their sinfulness, especially the culminating sin of not preaching to the Anglian incomers. These incomers are now the true Israel – not only, it seems, as Christians in general, but very specifically as a gens drawn together by providence to overcome those who have put themselves outside the divine purpose. And they are the true ‘Romans’, the true citizens, part of a cultural and spiritual network extending across the known civilized world. Bede will underline the importance of the direct involvement of Rome in every significant development in the new Christianity of Britain, from Pope Gregory’s very hands-on direction of Augustine’s mission through to the close liaison with the Roman Church enjoyed by Benedict Biscop, founder of Bede’s monastery, which allowed Biscop to invite no less an authority than the choirmaster of St Peter’s in Rome to come to Northumbria and instruct the monks of Wearmouth–Jarrow in liturgical chant and ceremony (IV.18). When Caedwalla, the West


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Saxon king, resigns his throne and travels to Rome to be baptized, he receives from the Pope the baptismal name of Peter and is later buried in St Peter’s basilica (V.7): there could hardly be a stronger symbol of the fusion between the new order in Britain and the focus of Western Christian imagination in Rome. The old Britain and its Church have lost their claim to be representatives both of Israel and of Rome; Bede confidently presents the gens Anglorum as both a kind of chosen people and an integral part of the universal civilized world that is reassembling around the papacy. It is, as we shall see, a complicated ideological legacy. Bede slightly tones down Gildas’ abuse of the Germanic invaders; but he does not deny the bloodthirstiness of the unconverted Angles and Saxons. It is one of the things that has won him credit with nineteenth- and twentieth-century readers that he does not completely whitewash even his heroes. In this sense, his use of his sources, while it may be highly creative (even revolutionary, as with Gildas) is not dishonest. He does not conceal the fact that King Oswiu, one of the most important figures in the story he has to tell, the man who confirms the triumph of Roman practice at the Synod of Whitby, was responsible for the murder of his devout co-ruler Oswine, friend of St Aidan (III.14); neither does he draw any veils over the early genocidal activities of Caedwalla, who made such a good end in Rome (IV.15– 16). And perhaps the most marked example of this is his treatment of Augustine of Canterbury himself, the leader of the great mission to the English in 597. Pope Gregory’s gentle but firm rebuke to Augustine for wanting to turn back is recorded (I.23), as are his patient replies to Augustine’s raft of sometimes rather overanxious questions about discipline in the newly planted church (I.27) and his warning to the



archbishop against putting too much stress on miraculous signs (I.31). All this is an impressive product of the research in the papal archives commissioned by Bede. But he also uses with some nuance the traditions that are available more locally; and in the well-known story of Augustine’s meeting with the British bishops, he indicates a theme that will surface again in the later books of the Historia, and which is a key to understanding the subtlety of what he is trying to achieve. The narrative in II.2 is, on the surface, straightforward. The new archbishop invites ‘bishops and teachers’ from the British territories to meet with him at a site never precisely identified but probably between the Cotswolds and the Severn estuary, to discuss divergences in practice between the Roman and British churches (especially the date of Easter) and to encourage cooperation in mission to the heathen. No consensus emerges, but Augustine reinforces his spiritual authority by healing a blind man. The British grant that he has proved himself but ask for a second meeting. This involves a large delegation from the important monastery of Bangor-on-Dee. But, prior to the meeting, this delegation asks advice from a hermit, who tells them that they will be able to recognize Augustine as a true man of God if he shows humility and rises to greet them on their arrival. Augustine remains seated and negotiations are stalled. An exasperated Augustine eventually warns them that if they refuse to evangelize the invaders, they will suffer at their hands; and sure enough, within a few years, Aethelfrith of Northumbria massacres a huge number of monks from Bangor after his victory over the ‘heretic’ British at Chester. It is a story that does Augustine no favours; and Bede’s own relish in describing the slaughter of the ‘heretical’ monks is the most


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

unattractive passage in the whole work. But its composition is more complex than at first appears. The second meeting is described in a very different way from the first, with repetitions of ‘it is said’ and ‘it is related’. It also contains, unusually, two British personal names, that of the abbot of Bangor, Dinoot (the Dunawd of later Welsh hagiography), and that of the British chief who fails to protect the monks at Chester, Brocmail (perhaps the Brochfael or Brochwel Ysgythrog of the Welsh genealogies). It looks very much as though there is a British source somewhere in the background, as well as what must be a Canterbury tradition of the encounter, including Augustine’s miracle (which echoes the miracle performed earlier by St Germanus to prove his authority in the contest with Pelagian heretics in I.18).13 Various explanations have been offered, but the simplest is that Bede is stitching together two rival accounts of a meeting, one from Canterbury, the other from a British text whose complete reliability he is obviously not sure of (hence the cautious ‘it is said’).14 Both are defences of a position, one explaining why the British were justified in not cooperating (and perhaps blaming Augustine for a ‘curse’ that was fulfilled in the massacre at Chester), the other demonstrating the punishment for wilful disobedience to lawful authority reinforced by miracle. Bede knows where the moral of the story lies, but is scrupulous in recording Augustine’s share in the responsibility for the breakdown of negotiations. It is the first foreshadowing of a concern that haunts later books: the British undoubtedly do their bit in holding back the work of providence – but the arrogance of some in authority on the ‘right’ side also plays its part and invites judgement. More of that later; the point to note for now is that Bede does not let the clear ideological thrust of his narrative simply distort



what is before him, even giving houseroom to materials from the losing side and recognizing that this is no black-and-white record. Providence may be at work; but it does not absolve historical agents from real responsibility. In a way rather reminiscent of some kinds of biblical narrative — the story of Joseph in Genesis or the records of the upheavals and intrigues during the reign of King David in 2 Samuel, for example — the clear outworking of God’s purpose does not mean that we can forget the sins and errors of those who are his instruments. Bede, in a way that brings together his two greatest theological authorities, Augustine of Hippo and Pope Gregory the Great, allows for the irremediably mixed character of human action and motivation in a violent and confused world, while firmly maintaining his commitment to the providential nature of legitimate authority in the Church and the ordering of human history towards justice. The Historia is, after all, dedicated to a king and, as the introduction makes plain, is meant to help him do his job.

3. The Historia as spiritual challenge It is this three-dimensional quality that makes Bede still so readable. Once we have allowed for the insistent ideological biases, the work is still immeasurably more than a simple apologia for Roman custom and Anglo-Saxon hegemony. What generations have treasured in Bede is the wealth of anecdote, related with such vividness and sometimes poignancy: the Anglian slaves in Rome who prompt Gregory to think of a mission to this remote land; the Northumbrian nobleman who unforgettably compares human life to the flight of a


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

sparrow out of the storm through a warm and lighted hall (II.13); the little boy on his deathbed in the convent nursery at Barking calling out for his favourite among the sisters, ‘Edith! Edith! Edith!’, and she dies the same day (IV.8); the shy herdsman Caedmon being prompted by a visitor from heaven to sing ‘about the beginning of created things’ (IV.24); and, of course, the incidents in the lives of Bede’s greatest heroes, the saints of the Northeast, Aidan, Cuthbert and John of Beverley. Aidan giving away to a poor man the horse the king has given him (III.14), Cuthbert ‘lingering among the hill folk’ (IV.27) on his preaching tours, John teaching a youth who cannot articulate his words (perhaps with Downs’ Syndrome or some comparable condition) to talk, syllable by syllable (V.2) – these are what gives Bede’s work its lasting quality simply as a literary achievement. But much of this anecdote is there to make some sharp spiritual and moral points. While Bede takes it for granted that ‘proper’ mission ought to be something that comes with a clear guarantee from Rome — hence the careful mention of the Roman credentials of the earliest mission to Ireland (I.13), Birinus’ work in Wessex (III.7) and even, stretching credibility a bit, Ninian’s evangelizing of the Southern Picts (III.4) — it needs more than that; and he is open about the fact that at least some highly effective missions have gone forward without the Roman seal of approval. The clearest instance is the work of Aidan in Northumbria: shaped by his years in the community of Iona, for which, and for whose founder Columba, Bede always expresses great respect, Aidan exercised what Bede regards as an exemplary pastoral ministry that sets a standard from which present clergy and bishops have fallen away (III.5). As bishop, he replaced another Irish cleric who gave up the job having failed to make any impact; Aidan,



says Bede (ibid.), discerned that the problem was a lack of pastoral gentleness and sensitivity, and, in his own ministry, he showed at every point what this might mean. He refuses to ride on horseback so as to give himself the chance of casual pastoral encounters; he does not buy in to the elaborate rituals of courting the great or wealthy by gifts and privileges; he presses the kings and magnates of the region to give to the poor and uses donations of money for the relief of poverty and hunger and the buying back of those sold into slavery. It is clear that he represents for Bede the ideal of episcopal ministry – although the awkward fact has to be recorded that he failed to keep Easter at the right date, not being properly instructed (III.3, 17). His disciple, the English-born Chad, follows in the same tradition: the same reluctance to travel on horseback is specially noted (III.28, IV.3), and it recurs in Bede’s account of Cuthbert as well (IV.27). The accounts of these figures, especially Aidan, deliberately echo what is said about the exemplary manner of life of Augustine’s early community in Canterbury (I.26), with its echoes in turn of the Acts of the Apostles. The early Northumbrian kings of Bede’s narrative, Oswald, Oswine and even the slightly less satisfactory Oswiu are, it seems, responsive to this style of ministry, accepting that they may be challenged or criticized by their unworldly protégés. And as Bede tells the story, these are the figures who really make a difference in the spread of the faith among the mass of the population. Royal partnership is vital in the mission, that is plain enough: the evangelists need protection, support, land. But this does not imply a simple contract with kingly power, let alone an assimilation to its norms. The kings are praised for their willingness to listen to the generous and ascetical precepts of the Iona and Lindisfarne monastic tradition – echoing, probably deliberately, Augustine of Hippo


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

in his City of God (V.24 and 26) in which he depicts the ideal Christian monarch as always ready for constructive rebuke and willing to share what he has in property and power for the general good. Yet the awkwardness cannot be smoothed over. Iona and Lindisfarne stand for practices that Bede has already stigmatized as heretical, and the confrontation which reaches its climax in 664 at the Synod of Whitby is inevitable. And at Whitby, the spokesman for the triumphant Roman party is a figure he regards with very mixed feelings, Wilfrid, later bishop of York. Bede relates some of the details of Wilfrid’s chequered career (see particularly III.25, IV.2–3, 12–3, V.19) and reproduces the laudatory epitaph from his tomb in Ripon. He never directly criticizes Wilfrid; but his unstinting praise of Chad, displaced at York by Wilfrid, tells its own tale. In III.28, Bede notes that Wilfrid was consecrated bishop in Gaul magno cum honore, ‘with great dignity’ immediately before introducing us to Chad as sanctus, modestus moribus, ‘a holy man of simple habits’. And when Bede in V.19 describes the repeated trips of Wilfrid to Rome to clear himself from various allegations of irregular exercise of authority, he reports, poker-faced, that the unanimous judgement in Rome was that Wilfrid’s accusers had manufactured false charges – nonnulla in parte, ‘to a certain extent’; not quite a ringing endorsement. Behind all this is what comes out more clearly elsewhere, in other writings of Bede and in the enthusiastically partisan biography of Wilfrid by his pupil Stephen of Ripon:15 Wilfrid’s highhandedness had led to continuing tension with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, whose plans for the more efficient and coherent organizing of the Church in England Bede thoroughly approved of; and Wilfrid’s tenure of the bishopric at Lindisfarne in immediate succession to



Cuthbert (IV.29) was evidently a disaster, as Bede indicates more directly in his Prose Life of Cuthbert (40). In other words, the uncompromising energy and self-confidence that had helped to win the day in the debates at Whitby also put at risk the health and harmony of the Church. Wilfrid, like Augustine, is in some sense the instrument of providence; but that does not mean that he is either a good example of pastoral ministry or himself incapable of putting at risk the purposes of providence through his personal arrogance. And it cannot have helped that the younger Bede’s scholarship and orthodoxy had been impugned by a cleric in Wilfrid’s circle some time in the first decade of the eighth century, producing an unusually heated response from Bede in his Letter to Plegwin in 709. What emerges from this is precisely what makes the Historia such an exceptionally nuanced and humane work. The primary goal of establishing a Church at the ends of the earth that is unimpeachable in its orthodoxy and obedience to Roman practice is attained in part through the actions of persons whom Bede cannot present as unambiguously righteous. The reader cannot – and is not meant to – read the book simply as the record of an unbroken advance towards the best possible state of things. Bede’s Letter to Egbert, written at the very end of his life, is a fierce indictment of the abuses that disfigure the life of the Northumbrian Church in the 730s: founding monasteries has become a way of accumulating land and consolidating aristocratic power — something like an early mediaeval tax dodge — and the people who live in these so-called monasteries have no grasp of the fundamentals of monastic or even Christian life. Bede argues for a drastic solution, the cancellation of royal or aristocratic charters establishing unsatisfactory or irreformable houses; they should either


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

be abolished or reconstituted under clear episcopal oversight.16 The culture of patronage which worked so well with pious kings and unworldly clergy who knew their respective roles has now become a corrupting influence. Constantly in the background is the ideal of Lindisfarne in the golden age of the seventh century. Its monks may, before Whitby, have been ‘uninstructed’ and unorthodox as regards the date of Easter and the shape of the monastic tonsure,17 but they were in no doubt of their spiritual priorities. The steady assimilation of episcopal lifestyles to those of the Anglian nobility has changed this; and Bede’s narrative overall seems to be implying that figures like Wilfrid, however irreproachably disciplined in their personal lives, have to take some responsibility for this. To adapt a wellknown saying attributed to the Duke of Wellington, a victory may be only a little less tragic than a defeat. The Roman party has won the immediate battle, but the real and continuing war is against worldliness, self-indulgence and the lack of pastoral compassion. In that war, the memory of the ‘uninstructed’ saints of Iona and Lindisfarne is an essential resource, and the Historia is written to make sure that it is not lost. And the moving account of Bede’s deathbed written by one of his close disciples shows vividly something of the spiritual intensity and simplicity of the monastic atmosphere in which Bede lived and died, an atmosphere profoundly shaped by that heritage.

4.  ‘Telling it slant’: what Bede doesn’t say Contemporary students naturally want to know how far Bede can now be taken as a reliable guide to the 400–700 period in the history



of these islands; and the answer to this is already in some degree given by the nature of his sources. For the earliest centuries, he relies heavily on the early fifth-century Spanish writer Orosius, author of a not very dependable universal history ‘against the pagans’.18 The account of the martyrdom of Alban uses a text current in some form by the fifth century; Bede understandably but almost certainly wrongly follows Gildas in dating the event to the ‘Great Persecution’ of the early fourth century, whereas a significant number of scholars would now date it to the mid-third.19 For the mid-fourth century onwards, there is Gildas, of course – but Gildas has no obvious written sources and nearly everything he relates seems to depend on hearsay and oral recollection; and there is also Constantius’ Life of St Germanus, a text of very uneven reliability. The sixth century is a total blank in Bede until the Roman mission of 597 – reflecting the absence of any contemporary written material from Britain apart from Gildas, whose highly coloured denunciations of the Western British kings of his day are not of interest to Bede. The missions of Augustine and Paulinus are filled out by the quite ample epistolary evidence preserved (presumably) both in Rome and in the monasteries in Canterbury and the North. And from this point on, both documentary and traditional sources are obviously more in evidence. This means that the narrative of the ‘invasion’ of Britain by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes rests on a very slender thread of testimony – primarily Gildas, who, as we have noted, has practically no documentary sources. Recent scholarship has paid far more attention than hitherto to the archaeological record of late Roman and postRoman Britain, and has had to accept that the material remains offer nothing at all to support Gildas’ story of invasion and wholesale


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

slaughter.20 The origin legends of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms — in Bede and in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle — naturally portray a warlike aristocracy winning lands by conquest. But the very detail of these heroic stories can betray their fictional character. The names of the Jutish leaders Hengest and Horsa — variants of ‘horse’, as has often been observed — look like a detail from folklore, and Bede’s developed story of their arrival in Kent and their dealings with the British King Vortigern is a blend of Kentish tradition and the reworking of Gildas’ typically unclear statements.21 Even more tellingly, the earliest kings of Wessex in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle have unmistakeably British names (as does Bede’s villainous and penitent Caedwalla later on). The natural conclusion is that the origins of the kingdom of the West Saxons lay in a gradual fusion of British and ‘settler’ communities, and that some of what was recalled as warfare between Briton and Saxon was a series of opportunistic local conflicts that did not break down along strictly ethnic lines. Even Bede’s Caedmon at Hilda’s community in Whitby has a name that is almost certainly British (‘Catumanus’, Cadfan in later Welsh, is a well-attested name in Wales at this period). Populations mixed, and historic patterns of cultivation and settlement seem to have gone on without a huge amount of interruption in the immediate post-Roman period. Undoubtedly, as new patterns of leadership, protection, land ownership and social control evolved,22 there were violent clashes, sometimes between settlers and natives, sometimes simply between rival warbands. Gildas’ traditions of bloodshed and of efforts to contain aggressive groups of settlers by the last remnants of the Romanized squirearchy need not be total fiction, but they have an axe to grind and should not be read as indicating generations of nationwide racial struggle.



And this, in turn, is bound to qualify Bede’s picture of a distinctive ‘British Church’ systematically refusing to engage with the newcomers. There were parts of Britain where the Christianizing of local settler populations evidently happened primarily through the influence of local native populations (the West Midlands and the Severn basin, for example). If local British ‘kings’ survived in what was left of the Roman towns of Bath, Gloucester and Cirencester, as we know they did, so, surely, did their bishops; and the British bishops who took part in the consecration of Chad and thus compromised his legitimacy in the eyes of later opponents (III.28) may well have been among them. Even in Northumbria, it is possible that clergy from the neighbouring British kingdom in Lancashire and Cumbria played some part in the mission of Paulinus to the court of King Edwin of Northumbria and afterwards.23 Meanwhile of course, evangelistic activity in Ireland had been proceeding apace. The Palladius mentioned by Bede, with his papally approved mission was not the only early Christian presence in Ireland; and it is a surprise for some readers to realize that Bede shows no knowledge of St Patrick (even if he had heard of him, he would probably have regarded him as prima facie suspect, both as a freelance – non-papally authorized – missionary, and as a Briton). Irish sources suggest a very regular exchange between Western Britain and Ireland in the uncharted sixth century: Gildas appears as an authority consulted by Irish clergy and the perennially elusive St David initially has a higher profile in Irish than in British tradition. The Irish monks so admired by Bede were thus part of a continuing cultural commonwealth that took in Western Britain, Ireland and Brittany. Teachers of note like the originally British figure remembered in various Irish sources as Finnian24 wandered between British


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and Irish monasteries, just as enthusiastic Anglian monks found their way to Ireland, as Bede himself reports. All of which means that the picture of a British and Irish Church that was isolated and uninformed is a very slanted one. The Irish reputation for outstanding scholarship in Bede’s day and later was rooted in a very lively and cosmopolitan ecclesial culture in the preceding century or so. Gildas’ Latin may try the patience, but it would have been recognized as stylish if a little old fashioned by continental savants; and he is as familiar with Vergil as with the Old Latin Bible. And he is writing for a British readership who may be expected to appreciate his blossoms of eloquence, a readership that must have included some at least of the monks and perhaps nuns whose communities he regularly mentions. The eighth-century Life of the Welsh St Samson, who travelled throughout the ‘cultural commonwealth’ of the Western seaboards 200 years earlier, reflects a learned and sophisticated monastic environment in all the contexts he is connected with; he has his formation in a community in South Wales that sounds like a modest local version of Cassiodorus’ contemporary venture in scholarly asceticism. Even allowing for the effect of two centuries of tradition and elaboration, all of this is quite congruent with what we know from elsewhere and with the best of the Welsh Latin inscriptions of the period. Like the slightly later Irish Columbanus, Samson eventually settles on the Continent (in Brittany), and his signature can be found among the attendance list at church councils in Paris in 553 and 557 – a signature phrased, tellingly, in a neat Latin hexameter.25 Neither Samson nor Columbanus appears to have had any lasting trouble over divergences in ritual or calendar from what their



neighbours thought of as normative. And that is important for understanding Bede: it may have felt possible, even natural, in Gaul or Italy to tolerate foreign holy men who stuck to ancestral customs, but within Britain it had to be a fight to the death, a matter of competition for the souls of the providentially chosen people who were to restore the integrity of the Church. And thus it is entirely in the interest of the story Bede has to tell that the native Christian population should be presented first as remote and out of touch, and then as obstinately clinging to their peculiarities in the face of catholic consensus. It is unlikely that Bede knew anything of Samson, although he does know something of Columbanus (II.4); but the experience of pilgrim ascetics in Europe cannot really bear on the question in Britain, which is essentially one of authority and authenticity. The new Christians of Britain, the Anglian gens, must be in all things obedient to revelation as determined from Rome; as we have seen, they must manifestly embody both the new Rome and the new Israel.

A great deal of nonsense has been written about ‘Celtic Christianity’,

as if this were an intelligible designation for some self-contained variant of catholic orthodoxy in the early Middle Ages, a variant more attuned to the sacredness of nature and less obsessed with institutional discipline. Historically, the Churches of those regions where Celtic languages were spoken never thought of themselves as part of a network other than that of the Western Catholic Church. They wrote and spoke Latin, they looked to Rome as the focus of their ecclesial life (Welsh kings as well as English spent their final years in Rome) and they accepted the creeds and canons of the Catholic Church. The irony is that Bede’s concern to show them as


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mysteriously and suspiciously ‘other’ to the Roman norm is one of the roots of modern mythologies about a Celtic Christianity that is somehow deeper and more spiritually comprehensive than the orthodox mainstream. His vague and general allegation that the British were especially susceptible to heresy and the more specific mention of the prevalence of Pelagianism in the fifth century26 are part of building up a picture of a disturbingly different style of Christianity. And even when he is underlining the difference in a positive way – the contrast between the humility and simplicity of the Irish-trained monks and the self-advertising and arrogance of others, past and present – he is reinforcing what modern fantasy has turned into a contrast between institutional ‘Roman’ Christianity and native Wordsworthian innocence and mystical insight. Bede’s unwitting assistance in creating this mirage of a radically ‘other’ Celtic Christian identity is one of the odder aspects of his legacy.

5. The Historia and English history That legacy is an exceptionally rich one, and, as the foregoing discussion will have suggested, quite a complex one too. The Historia circulated widely in Europe, probably thanks to the significant activities of Anglo-Saxon teachers on the Continent in the eighth and ninth centuries;27 and in England, it was translated and adapted in Old English and some of its contents became well known through homilies. In the Middle Ages it came to be rather overshadowed by the shamelessly fictional ‘history’ composed by Geoffrey of Monmouth (which turned upside down Bede’s privileging of the English over the



British); but the Reformation era brought Bede back on to the agenda, albeit not as a major focus. Just as Augustine of Hippo has been called ‘the father of both Reformations’ (i.e. both Protestant and Catholic reform), so Bede could be prayed in aid by both parties. Some Reformers used him as a witness to pure and uncorrupted English faith at the time when the errors of popery were triumphing abroad; but the dedication to the first modern English translation (1565) of the Historia, by the Catholic recusant Thomas Stapleton, pointed out the undeniable importance of the See of Rome in his narrative and urged Queen Elizabeth to emulate her remote Northumbrian forebears and restore the true faith. Archbishop Parker’s enthusiasm for the Anglo-Saxon Church focused more on later material – which may reflect a realistic judgement on the Archbishop’s part that Bede was not a good ally in a defence of the autonomy of the national church.28 That being said, it is hard to deny that Bede’s vision is one of the ingredients that makes up the history of ‘English exceptionalism’ which the English Reformation did so much to boost – the conviction that the English people had a special destiny under God, or that they embodied in a distinct way the biblical archetypes of the holy community.29 Looking back on this from the far side of a history of imperial adventure and racial myth, it is hard to be objective; in the same way, with South African history in mind, the model of divinely authorized settlers who are summoned to subdue a recalcitrant native population in imitation of Israel’s conquest of Canaan is likely to stick in the throat of the contemporary reader.30 Bede, however, is not offering an apologia for straightforward conquest or exploitation; he may condone atrocities (like the massacre at


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Chester), but the centre of his concern is the passionate eagerness to see the Church firmly established here, at the farthest reaches of the known world, held in catholic unity by its close connections with the central seat of authority in Rome and holding together the diverse elements in the gens Anglorum as a people with essentially one history and one coherent future. The Church thus offers an intelligible common identity to groups who might otherwise be at war, and it is the task of both clerics and kings to reinforce that common identity. Bede has a clear view of the vocation and destiny of the gens Anglorum, but it is not, ultimately, one that is meant to legitimize conflict or aggression. From another perspective, of course, his history might at first sight lend support to a strongly ‘ultramontane’ theology, a commitment to the privileges of central Church authority over local variations in devotion or practice. It is not an accident that, in the nineteenth century, the publication of an eloquently pro-papal ‘Life of St Wilfrid’ as part of a series of Lives of the English Saints was one of the things that got John Henry Newman into serious trouble with the authorities of the Church of England;31 neither that the most extravagant of all converts to Roman Catholicism in the mid century, Frederick William Faber, author of that ill-fated ‘Life’, founded a short-lived religious community under the patronage of Wilfrid and himself took the name of Wilfrid as a religious.32 To someone like Faber, there must have been irresistible echoes of Bede in the tensions not only between Roman Catholics and Anglicans but also between the ‘Old Catholic’ clergy and laity who had lived through the centuries of legal discrimination and harassment and the new generation who wanted to see English Catholicism come into line with the practice



of Continental Europe. But what this fails to take into account is the complexity of Bede’s own portrayal of old and new, local and universal – including the complexity of his assessment of Wilfrid. If Bede finds a genuine nineteenth-century Catholic echo, it is perhaps more obviously in the mature Newman, who both understood the need for universal communion and valued the spiritual legacy of those who, for a variety of good and bad reasons, had stood on or beyond the edges of that communion. For the twenty-first century student, Bede’s work is as challenging as it is engaging. It opens up some deep issues around national identity, reminding us that this is always something constructed in history, not just given by nature. It unambiguously presents the Church as a necessary element in that construction. To have a coherent national identity must be to have some sense of common moral purpose; and Bede leaves us with the — very timely — question of how exactly we are going to secure this in the absence of a common faith, or at least a common story of how faith has shaped our discourse. It also leaves us with the properly unresolved question of how a non-violent faith, whose greatest figures are those who renounce the obvious means of power, can become such a shaping force in society without losing its integrity and turning into yet one more competitor for cultural control. But above all, it remains a work of intense literary and spiritual vitality, full of memorable portraits and incidents. It celebrates at least as much as it argues; and this is always part of what makes any work — theology, history, scientific analysis — really durable.


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Notes  1 For an original and insightful overview, see Judith Herrin: The Formation of Christendom (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987): see especially the introduction to Part III, pp.295–306 on the diverse claimants to Rome’s inheritance.  2 The story of ‘King Lucius’ approaching Pope Eleutherius (c.174/5–189) comes from the Liber Pontificalis, a running chronicle of the papacy that went on until the ninth century; entries for the earliest period were mostly written up in the fifth and sixth centuries and are naturally very sparse and not always reliable. In this case, it looks as though Britain has been confused with ‘Britium’ (Birtha) in East Syria, which had a second-century King Lucius.  3 Bede’s account in I.7 derives from a text circulating in Gaul a good couple of centuries before his day, whose prototype may be as old as the fourth century. See n.19 on the question of the dates both of Alban’s martyrdom and of the first literary record.  4 For Augustine’s view, see Robert Markus’ brilliant Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), Ch.1; on Bede’s calculations of the ages of the world, very radical in their time, see Faith Wallis, ‘Bede and Science’, in The Cambridge Companion to Bede, pp.113–26, esp. pp.120–1. See also Conrad Leyser: Authority and Asceticism from Augustine to Gregory the Great (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2000), Chs 6 and 7, on Gregory the Great’s sense of living in the last days and its impact on his policy and practice.  5 See James Campbell: Essays in Anglo-Saxon History (London and Ronceverte: Hambledon, 1986), pp.85–108, on Bede’s use of Latin terms for Anglo-Saxon political realities. The point is not that Bede is assuming precise equivalence but that the Latin terminology includes Anglo-Saxon reality within an intelligible ‘Roman’ world.  6 See the important studies in W. Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550–800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tour, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (Princeton University Press, 1988, reprinted Notre Dame University Press, 2005).  7 ‘His [Bede’s] collection of evidence and critical use of it is essentially modern’; thus Gordon J. Copley in a note to his edition of Camden’s Britannia: Kent (London: Hutchinson, 1977), pp.88–9 – echoing Sir Frank Stenton and many others of an earlier generation.  8 For a good introduction to his works of biblical interpretation, see the texts in Parts I and II of The Venerable Bede: On the Song of Songs and Selected Writings, translated, edited and introduced by Arthur Holder, preface by



Benedicta Ward, in the Classics of Western Spirituality series (New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2011). See also the various essays (9, 10 and 11) on Bede and the Bible in the Cambridge Companion, and Scott de Gregorio (ed.), Innovation and Tradition in the Writings of the Venerable Bede (University of West Virginia Press, 2006).  9 See the essay by Faith Wallis, n.4 above, and her introduction to Bede: The Reckoning of Time, Translated Texts for Historians 29 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999); also the essays by C.W. Jones in W. M. Stevens (ed.), Bede, the Schools and the Computus, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1994). 10 Michelle P. Brown, ‘Bede’s Life in Context’, Cambridge Companion, pp.3–24, esp. p.6 11 On Eusebius’ method, which set the style for all subsequent ecclesiastical histories, their virtues and their faults, in the early Middle Ages, see Robert M. Grant, Eusebius as Church Historian (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), esp. Ch.4, and Timothy D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1981), Ch.8. The Latin translation of Eusebius is known to have been in the library at Wearmouth–Jarrow. 12 The text of the de excidio is edited and translated by Michael Winterbottom: Gildas: The Ruin of Britain and Other Documents (Chichester: Phillimore, 1978). 13 The stories about St Germanus of Auxerre and his visit to Britain seem to have been a fruitful source of legends about later saintly figures. Archbishop Mellitus of Canterbury (II.7) and Aidan of Lindisfarne (III.16) both quench fires by their prayers as does Germanus in I.19, and Aidan (III.15) follows Germanus (I.17) in stilling a storm at sea by commanding the sprinkling of holy oil on the waves as Germanus had sprinkled holy water. It would not be at all unlikely for Augustine to have attracted Germanus-based anecdotes in the same way. 14 This is a technique borrowed from Eusebius and his imitators; ‘it is said’ or ‘they say’ is a phrase that signals either the lack of specific written evidence or the use of what is, for whatever reason, regarded as less than satisfactory documentation. Bede would probably have regarded any British source in the latter light; the accurate reproduction of unfamiliar personal names is one of several elements suggesting that he is unlikely to be using oral tradition only for this British material. 15 Translated along with other works of the period including Bede’s Prose Life of St Cuthbert by J. F. Webb and D. H. Farmer in The Age of Bede (London: Penguin Books, 1965, reprinted 2004). On Bede’s attitude to Wilfrid, see, in addition to some discussion in Goffart’s Narrators of Barbarian History, N. J. Higham, Re-reading Bede. The Ecclesiastical History in Context (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), Ch. 2, especially pp.58–69.


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16 Judith McClure and Roger Collins, in the introduction to their translation of the Historia for the Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), observe that this proposal ‘would have undermined the whole principle of security of tenure based on possession of documentary proof of ownership’ (p.xxxi). For a general discussion of the issues, see Sarah Foot, ‘Church and Monastery in Bede’s Northumbria’, Cambridge Companion, pp.54–68 (p.63 on the Letter to Egbert). 17 The so-called ‘Celtic’ tonsure is described briefly in Abbot Ceolfrith’s letter to King Nectan in V.21. It seems to have been a strip shaved across the skull from ear to ear. Its origins are obscure, but there is some evidence for the idea that it originated in Ireland as an adaptation of the tonsure of slaves. 18 This was a very influential and much translated work in the early Middle Ages. It is marked by what Orosius thinks is Augustine’s view of history: Markus rightly says (Saeculum, p.161) that Orosius ‘had wholly failed to understand his master’s mind’, given his naively optimistic picture of how providence works. 19 See most recently Timothy D. Barnes: Early Christian Hagiography and Roman History (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2010), pp.307–12. Barnes shows good reason for dismissing the claim of one significant manuscript that the martyrdom took place during the reign of Severus at the beginning of the third century and opts, along with the historian of Celtic Britain, Charles Thomas, for a date during the persecution of Decius or Valerian in the mid-third century. 20 Francis Pryor: Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the AngloSaxons (London/New York/Toronto/Sydney, Harper, 2004), esp. Ch.6, is a very readable statement of the archaeological case against wholesale massacre and social disruption. Some of its judgements on early British Christianity, however, should be treated with caution. 21 Gildas blames the arrival of the Saxons on an unnamed superbus tyrannus, ‘an arrogant upstart of a ruler’; Bede is the first to provide a name, and gives it, in the Historia, in a scrupulously old-fashioned British form as ‘Uurtigernus’. This may derive from a marginal note in some early manuscript of Gildas, or from some independent British source – or, just possibly, from Bede or an immediate source identifying Gildas’ tyrannus with a king mentioned in another context, perhaps in connection with the visit of St Germanus. All the later Welsh traditions about Vortigern, including the genealogies, locate him firmly in Mid- or North Wales, and it is not very likely that any British ruler of the period had political powers extending from Wales to Kent. 22 Robyn Fleming: Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400–1070 (London: Allen Lane, 2010), offers, in Ch.4, a fresh, expert and lucid account of how



the disparate groups of post-Roman Britons and Germanic newcomers alike began to develop institutions of kingship in the sixth and seventh centuries. 23 The ninth-century Welsh Historia Brittonum (63) and the tenth-century Annales Cambriae for the year 626 claim that Edwin of Northumbria was baptized not by Paulinus but by ‘Rhun son of Urien’, who spent 40 days evangelizing and baptizing in Northumbria. Rhun map Urien appears in Welsh tradition as a member of the royal house of the British kingdom of Rheged, covering Lancashire, Cumbria and parts of Galloway. This may reflect a distant memory of cooperation with a British bishop from the royal house, or of the fact that a prince of Rheged acted as Edwin’s godfather (according to the same two sources, King Oswiu of Northumbria married an heiress of Rheged, the last of her line, Rhun’s granddaughter, thus presumably bringing about the annexation of the British kingdom early in Oswiu’s reign). 24 See Thomas Owen Clancy, ‘Scottish Saints and National Identities in the Early Middle Ages’, in Alan Thacker and Richard Sharpe (eds), Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Mediaeval West (Oxford, 2002), pp.397– 421, pp.411–3 on ‘Uinniau’, otherwise Finnian, Guinnoc, Wenoc, Gwynno and even In(n)an. It has been suggested by Clancy and others, reviving a suggestion first advanced in the nineteenth century, that ‘Uinniau’ is the original of Bede’s Ninian, which would push the latter’s date later than usually supposed; but ‘Nynio’ or ‘Nyniau’ is a well-evidenced British name of the period and the identification is debateable. 25 The Life of St Samson has been recently edited afresh by P. Flobert, Vita S. Samsonis (Paris: CNRS Editions, 1997). There is a translation by T. Taylor: The Life of St Samson of Dol (London: SPCK, 1925). 26 Accusations of Pelagianism should be treated cautiously – more cautiously than they are by some historians. Many of the bishops of fifth-century Gaul, especially the formidable Prosper of Aquitaine, adopted the most rigorous interpretation possible of Augustine’s teachings about grace and predestination and would have regarded anything short of this as ‘Pelagian’. This is the world to which Germanus of Auxerre belonged. It is significant that one of the few Gallic bishops of this period equally hostile both to Pelagius and to the extreme Augustinianism of Prosper was Faustus of Riez, who was British by birth and education. 27 See the essay by Joshua A. Westgard, ‘Bede and the Continent in the Carolingian Age and Beyond’ in the Cambridge Companion, pp.201–15. 28 See ‘The Englishness of Bede, from Then to Now’ by Allen J. Frantzen: Cambridge Companion, pp.229–42, esp. pp.235–8. 29 See for example Diarmaid MacCulloch: Tudor Church Militant: Edward VI


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and the Protestant Reformation, (London: Allen Lane, 1999, pp.14–20) on the application of biblical history to contemporary English events in the reign of Edward VI. 30 Some modern scholars have indeed used the term ‘apartheid’ to describe the provision for native Britons in the law code of King Ine of Wessex around 700. N. J. Higham’s fascinating study of King Arthur: Myth-Making and History (London: Routledge, 2002), discusses in Ch.5 (especially pp.245–64) the ways in which nineteenth-century English historians used post-Roman history, including Bede, to reinforce racial and imperial themes. 31 See Frank M. Turner, John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), pp.479–96, on the controversy aroused by the series; pp.487, 489, 490, 493–4 on the life of Wilfrid. 32 For Faber, Ronald Chapman’s, Father Faber (London: Burns and Oates, 1961), remains a lively and thoughtful overview; pp.102–3 on the life of Wilfrid, Ch.9 on the ‘Wilfridians’.

Thanks are especially due to Sarah Foot and Brian Golding for many helpful comments and suggestions.

Further reading

Brown, Michelle (2006), How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland. London: Lion Hudson. A magnificently illustrated popular history supported by first class scholarship. DeGregorio, Scott (ed.) (2010), The Cambridge Companion to Bede. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. A collection of comprehensive and judicious essays on different aspects of Bede’s work and its reception, with a very full bibliography. Fleming, Robin (2010), Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400–1070. London: Allen Lane. An excellent new survey, exceptionally good on economic and social history. Lambert, Malcolm (2010), Christians and Pagans: The Conversion of Britain from Alban to Bede. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. The best recent summary of research and a very readable narrative history. Mayr-Harting, Henry (1991), The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. London: Batsford and Pennsylvania State University Press. This remains a seminal study of the period of conversion. Thacker, Alan, and Sharpe, Richard (eds) (2002), Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Mediaeval West. Oxford: Oxford University Press. An outstanding collection opening up the wider background to Bede’s narrative. Ward, Benedicta (1990), The Venerable Bede. London: Continuum. A reliable and deeply sympathetic general introduction. Wormald, Patrick (2006), ‘Bede and the “Church of the English” ’, in Baxter, Stephen (ed.), The Times of Bede: Studies in Early English Christian Society and its Historian. Oxford: Blackwell. Essays by one of the foremost Bede scholars of the twentieth century. Yorke, Barbara (2006), The Conversion of Britain. Religion, Politics and Society in Britain, c.600–800. Harlow. Locates the ecclesiastical record within a very good analytical survey of the social and ethnic histories of the period.

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Part Two

Selected texts from the Ecclesiastical History of the English People These texts are based on the Latin text in Charles Plummer’s edition Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum, 2 volumes (Oxford, 1896; reprinted 1946, 1956, 1961). There are several English translations of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, all readable and accurate, although no translation can reproduce the full beauty and subtlety of Bede’s Latin. The present work is no exception: it has been made to lead the reader back to Bede’s text by expanding the passages referred to in the introduction. I have aimed at plain, readable English rather than word-for-word translation.


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

With apologies to Bede: Words . . . though never so well composed, cannot be literally translated out of one language into another, without losing much of their beauty and dignity. (Bede, Bk IV.24) Benedicta Ward SLG


Translations are given for selected chapters, indicated in bold.

Preface To the most glorious King Ceolwulf, from Bede, the servant of Christ and a Priest: 1. The situation of Britain and Ireland, and their earliest inhabitants. 2. Gaius Julius Caesar, the first Roman to come to Britain. 3. How Claudius, the second of the Romans who came to Britain, brought the Orkney Islands into subjection to the Roman Empire; and Vespasian, sent by him, placed the Isle of Wight under their rule. 4. How Lucius, king of Britain, wrote to Pope Eleutherius, asking to be made a Christian. 5. How Severus divided that part of Britain which he subdued from the rest by a rampart. 6. The reign of Diocletian, and how he persecuted the Christians.


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

7. The passion of St Alban and his companions, who at that time shed their blood for the Lord. 8. How the persecution ceased, and the Church in Britain enjoyed peace till the time of the Arian heresy. 9. How, during the reign of Gratian, Maximus was made emperor in Britain and returned to Gaul with a mighty army. 10. How, in the reign of Arcadius, Pelagius, a Briton, insolently impugned the grace of God. 11. How, during the reign of Honorius, Gratian and Constantine were made rulers in Britain; and how, soon after, the former was slain in Britain, and the latter in Gaul. 12. How the Britons, being ravaged by the Irish and the Picts, sought help from the Romans, who came a second time and built a wall across the island; but this was soon broken down by the same enemies and the Britons were reduced to greater distress than before. 13. How, in the reign of Theodosius the Younger, Palladius was sent to the Irish that believed in Christ; the Britons begged the assistance of Ætius, the consul, but could not obtain it. 14. How the Britons, compelled by famine, drove the barbarians out of their territories; and how, soon after, there was at first plenty of corn, then luxurious living, then plague, and finally the dire fate of the nation. 15. How the Angles were invited into Britain, and at first made the enemy retreat; but not long after, they joined the enemy and turned their weapons upon their confederates.



16. How the Britons obtained their first victory over the Angles, under the command of Ambrosius, a Roman. 17. How Bishop Germanus set sail for Britain with Lupus; he first quelled the tempest of the sea, and afterward that of the Pelagians, by divine power. 18. How the same man gave sight to the blind daughter of a tribune, and then came to St Albans, where he accepted some of the martyr’s relics, and presented other relics of the blessed apostles, and of other martyrs. 19. How, when Germanus was kept there by illness, he quenched a fire that had broken out among the houses by his prayers, and was himself cured of his sickness by a vision. 20. How the same two bishops brought the Britons divine assistance in a battle, and then returned home. 21. How, when the pestilential growth of the Pelagian heresy revived, Germanus returned to Britain with Severus; they first healed a lame youth, then, having condemned or converted the heretics, they restored spiritual health to the people of God. 22. How the Britons, being for a time delivered from foreign invasions, wasted themselves by civil wars, and then gave themselves up to more heinous crimes. 23. How Pope Gregory sent Augustine, with other monks, to preach to the English nation, and encouraged them by a letter of exhortation, not to cease from their labour. 24. How he wrote to the Bishop of Arles asking him to welcome them.


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25. How Augustine came to Britain and first preached on the Island of Thanet to King Aethelberht of Kent; and how he obtained permission and went into the kingdom of Kent, in order to preach there. 26. How in Kent he followed the doctrine and manner of living of the primitive Church, and received an episcopal see in the royal city. 27. How he was made bishop, and wrote to let Pope Gregory know what had been done in Britain; he received answers to the queries he had sent to him. (see pp.69–70) 28. How Pope Gregory wrote to the Bishop of Arles asking him to assist Augustine in the work of God. 29. How he sent Augustine the pallium with a letter, and also sent several more ministers of the Word. 30. A copy of the letter which Pope Gregory sent to the Abbot Mellitus, who was on his way to Britain. (see pp.70–1) 31. How Pope Gregory, by letter, exhorted Augustine not to glory in the miracles he was performing. 32. How he sent letters and presents to King Aethelberht. 33. How Augustine repaired the church of the Saviour, and built the monastery of St Peter the Apostle; about Peter, its first abbot. 34. How Aethelfrith, king of the Northumbrians, having conquered the nations of the Irish, expelled them from the territories of the English.



PREFACE To the most glorious king Ceolwulf, greetings from Bede, servant of Christ and priest: At your request, O king, I willingly sent you the Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and Nation, which I had recently completed, for you to read and give it your approbation. I now send it again to be copied and more fully considered at your leisure. I recognize the sincerity and zeal with which you not only diligently listen to the words of Holy Scripture, but also the care you take to become acquainted with the actions and sayings of former men of renown, especially of our own nation. For if history relates good things of good men, the attentive hearer is stirred up to imitate that which is good; or if it mentions evil things of wicked persons, nevertheless the devout and earnest hearer or reader, shunning that which is hurtful and perverse, is then stirred to perform those things which he knows to be good, and pleasing to God. Since you are deeply aware of this, you want to make this account more familiar to yourself and to those over whom the Divine Authority has appointed you to rule because of your great regard to their general welfare. Now so that I may remove all doubt about what I have written, both for yourself and other readers or hearers of this history, I will take care to explain briefly from what sources I chiefly gained my information. My principal authority and aid in this modest work was the learned and reverend Abbot Albinus who was educated in the Church of Canterbury by those venerable and learned men, Archbishop Theodore and the Abbot Hadrian, of blessed memory. Everything


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that Albinus thought worth recording that had been done in the kingdom of Kent, or in nearby lands by the disciples of the blessed Pope Gregory, which he had learned either from written records, or the traditions of his ancestors, was brought to me by Nothelm, the godly priest of the Church of London, either in writing, or by word of mouth. The same Nothelm then went to Rome and with the leave of the present Pope Gregory, searched the archives of the holy Roman Church. He found there some letters of St Gregory and other popes. When he returned home by the advice of the most reverend father Albinus he brought them to me, to be included in my history. From the time when this book begins to the moment when the English nation received the faith of Christ, I have collected material from the writings of our predecessors. From that time till the present, what was transacted in the Church of Canterbury, by the disciples of St Gregory or their successors, and under what kings the same happened, has been brought to me by Nothelm through the industry of Abbot Albinus. They also partly informed me by what bishops and under what kings the kingdoms of the East and West Saxons, as also the East Angles and the Northumbrians received the faith of Christ. In short, I was chiefly encouraged to undertake this work by the persuasion of the same Albinus. Daniel, the bishop of the West Saxons, who is still alive communicated to me in writing some things relating to the history of the Church in that kingdom, and that of Sussex and also of the Isle of Wight. What is more, I learned from the brethren of the monastery which was built by Cedd and Chad and is called Lastingham, how by their devoted ministry the province of the Mercians was brought to the faith of Christ, which they had not known before. I learned



how the kingdom of the East Angles recovered the faith, after having rejected it. I also learned from Lastingham how those fathers lived and died. What church matters were transacted in the province of East Anglia was partly made known to me from the writings and tradition of our ancestors, and partly from the written account of the most reverend Abbot Esi. What was done towards promoting the faith, and what was the succession of bishops in the province of Lindsey, I heard either from the account of the most reverend bishop Cyneberht or by word of mouth from other trustworthy men. What had happened in the church throughout the kingdom of Northumbria from the time when they received the faith of Christ till today I received not from any one source but by the faithful testimony of innumerable witnesses who knew or remembered the same, as well as what I knew personally. It should here be noted that what I have written concerning the most holy father Bishop Cuthbert, either in this volume or in my treatise on his life and actions, I partly took from what I read in simple faith in what I found written of him by the brethren of the Church of Lindisfarne; but at the same time took care to add such things as I myself knew by the faithful testimony of reliable witnesses. I humbly request the reader that if he shall find in what I have written anything not according to the truth, he will not impute that to me, since as the principles of true history require, I have laboured sincerely to commit to writing such things as I could gather from common report, for the instruction of posterity. And I beg all who shall hear or read this history of our nation to offer up frequent prayers for the mercy of God on my weaknesses both of mind and body. And I also pray, that in recompense for the


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labour with which I have recorded those events which were most worthy of note, and most welcome to the inhabitants in several kingdoms and places, I may have for my reward the harvest of their loving prayers.

Chapter 1 Britain is an island in the ocean and it was formerly called Albion. … It is rich in crops and trees and has good pasturage for cattle. … In Britain at present there are five languages following the number of the books in which the Divine law was written. It contains five nations, the English, Britons, Irish, Picts, and Latins, each with its own special dialect intent on the sublime study of divine truth. Because of the study of the Scriptures the Latin tongue has become common to them all. … At first the island of Britain had no other inhabitants but the Britons, from whom it derived its name, and who, coming over into Britain, as is said from Armorica (Brittany), settled in the south. When they, beginning at the south, had made themselves masters of the major part of the island, it happened that the nation of the Picts who were said to be from Scythia, put to sea in a few long ships and were driven by the winds beyond the shores of Britain, and arrived on the northern coast of Ireland. There they met the Irish and asked to be allowed to settle among them, but could not succeed in obtaining what they asked. … The Irish told them that the island could not contain them both but they added, ‘We can give you good advice: we



know there is another island not far from ours to the east which we often see at a distance when the days are clear. If you will go there you will obtain land for settlement; or, if they should oppose you, you shall have our assistance.’ So the Picts sailed over into Britain, and began to inhabit the north, for the Britons possessed the south. … In process of time, Britain, besides the Britons and the Picts, received a third nation, the Irish, who, migrated from Ireland under their leader, Reuda, and either by treaties or by force of arms secured settlements among the Picts which they still possess. … Ireland far surpasses Britain for wholesomeness and serenity of climate, for the snow scarcely ever lies there above three days: no man makes hay in the summer for winter provision, or builds stables for his beasts of burden. No reptiles are found there, and no snake can live there. … The island abounds in milk and honey, nor is there any want of vines, fish, or fowl; and it is remarkable for deer and stags.

Chapter 2 Britain had never been visited by the Romans, and was entirely unknown to them before the time of Gaius Julius Caesar, who, in the 693rd year from the foundation of Rome, but in the sixtieth year before the incarnation of the Lord, made war upon the Germans and the Gauls, and came into the kingdom of the Morini (Belgium), from whence is the nearest and shortest passage to Britain. Here, having provided about eighty transport ships and some lighter vessels, Caesar sailed over into Britain; where, being first roughly handled


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in a battle, and then meeting with a violent storm, he lost a considerable part of his fleet, no small number of soldiers, and almost all his horses. Returning to Gaul, he put his legions into winter quarters, and gave orders for building six hundred ships of both sorts. With these he again passed over early in spring into Britain, but, whilst he was marching with a large army towards the enemy, the ships riding at anchor were by a tempest either dashed one against another, or driven upon the sands and wrecked. Forty of them perished, the rest were with much difficulty repaired. Caesar’s cavalry was, at the first charge, defeated by the Britons, and Labienus, the tribune, slain. In the second engagement, however, with great hazard to his men, he put the Britons to flight. Now Rome was taken by the Goths in the eleventh hundred and sixty fourth year after its foundation. After this the Romans ceased to rule Britain having lived there 470 years after Caesar’s invasion. They had occupied the whole land south of the rampart set up across the island by Severus, and signs of their occupation exist still in the cities, lighthouses, bridges and roads which they built.

Chapter 4 … During this time of Roman occupation, Lucius, a king of the Britons, sent a letter to Pope Eleutherius, a holy man, asking him to allow him to become a Christian; his request was granted. The British kept the faith they had received inviolate and entire, in peace and quiet, until the time of the Emperor Diocletian.



Chapter 7 St Alban suffered during the persecutions. He was mentioned by Fortunatus in his In Praise of Virgins among the martyrs who came to the Lord from the whole world, calling him ‘Illustrious Alban, child of fruitful Britain’. At the time when wicked rulers were issuing edicts against Christians, Alban, while still a pagan, gave hospitality in his house to a certain Christian priest, who was fleeing from the persecutors. Alban noticed that the priest was always praying and keeping vigil by day and by night; and suddenly the grace of God shone on him and he began to imitate the priest’s example of faith and goodness. He was gradually instructed by the priest about salvation, cast off the darkness of idolatry, and became a Christian with all his heart. When the priest had been with him for several days, it came to the ears of the wicked ruler that this holy confessor of Christ, whose time of martyrdom had not yet come, was concealed at Alban’s house. So he ordered some soldiers to make a strict search for him. When they came to the house, Alban immediately presented himself to the soldiers instead of his guest and master, in the long cloak which the priest had worn, and was led bound before the judge. When Alban was brought before him, the judge was standing at an altar and offering sacrifices to devils. When he saw Alban he was furious that he had of his own accord put himself into the hands of the soldiers, and incurred such danger on behalf of his guest. So he commanded him to be dragged up to the images of the demons before which he stood, saying, ‘Because you have chosen to conceal a


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rebellious and sacrilegious person, rather than hand him over to the soldiers that his contempt for the gods might meet with the penalty due to such blasphemy, you shall suffer all the punishment that was due to him since you abandon our religion.’ But Alban, who had voluntarily declared himself a Christian to the persecutors of the faith, was not at all daunted at the rulers’ threats, but, putting on the armour of spiritual warfare [cf. Ephesians 6.14], publicly declared that he would not obey the command. Then the judge said, ‘Of what family or race are you?’ ‘What concern is it of yours,’ answered Alban, ‘of what family I am? If you want to hear the truth of my religion, know that I am now a Christian, and I am ready to do my duty as a Christian.’ ‘I ask your name,’ said the judge, ‘Tell me it immediately.’ ‘I am called Alban by my parents,’ replied he; ‘and I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things.’ Then the judge, inflamed with anger, said, ‘If you will enjoy the happiness of eternal life, do not delay to offer sacrifice to the mighty gods.’ Alban replied, ‘These sacrifices, which you offer to devils can neither help you nor answer the wishes or desires of those that offer up prayers to them. On the contrary, whoever offers sacrifice to these images shall receive the eternal pains of hell for his reward.’ When he heard these words, the judge was furious and ordered the holy confessor of God to be beaten by the torturers, thinking that by such blows he might shake that constancy of heart against which he could not prevail by words. Alban, being most cruelly tortured, bore it patiently, or rather joyfully, for the Lord’s sake. When the judge realized that he could not be overcome by torture, or turned from the Christian religion, he ordered him to be put to death.



When Alban was led to execution, he came to a river, which ran very swiftly between the wall of the town and the place where he was to be executed. He saw there a crowd of people of both sexes, and of various ages and conditions, who were clearly assembled by the call of God to attend the blessed confessor and martyr, and were crowding the bridge over the river so much that he could scarcely have crossed over before evening. In short, almost everyone had gone out of the town, so that the judge remained alone there without attendants. Alban, therefore, urged by an ardent and devout wish to arrive quickly at martyrdom, drew near to the stream, and when he lifted up his eyes to heaven, the channel was immediately dried up, and he saw that the water had drawn back and made a way for him to pass over. Among the people who saw this was the executioner who was meant to have put him to death; he noticed this, and, moved by Divine inspiration ran to meet him at the place of execution. He threw down the sword which he had carried ready, and knelt at the saint’s feet earnestly begging that he should be found worthy to be put to death with him whom he had been ordered to execute or else instead of him. While he who was a persecutor became a companion in the faith, the other executioners hesitated to pick up the sword which was lying on the ground. The reverend confessor, accompanied by the multitude, climbed a hill, about five hundred paces from that place, which was adorned, or rather clothed, with all kinds of wild flowers, having its sides neither perpendicular, nor sheer, but sloping down to a most beautiful plain, its lovely appearance making it well suited to be the scene of a martyr’s sufferings. On the top of this hill, Alban prayed that God would give him water, and immediately a living


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spring broke out at his feet being confined within its channel, so that all men perceived that the river also had been dried up in consequence of the martyr’s presence. Nor was it likely that the martyr, who had left no water remaining in the river, should lack some on the top of the hill, unless he thought it suitable for the occasion. The river having performed this holy service, returned to its natural course, leaving a testimony of its obedience. Here the head of the most courageous martyr was struck off, and he received the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him [James 1.12]. But he who gave the wicked stroke, was not permitted to rejoice over the killing; for his eyes dropped to the ground together with the blessed martyr’s head. At the same time the soldier was also beheaded, who earlier through the will of God had refused to behead the holy confessor. It is clear that though he had not been reborn by baptism, yet he was cleansed by the washing of his own blood, and so made worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Then the judge, astonished at the novelty of so many heavenly miracles, ordered the persecution to cease immediately, and began to honour the death of the saints, that same death by which he once thought to divert them from the Christian faith. The blessed Alban suffered death on the twenty second day of June, near the city of Verulamium, which is now by the English nation called Verlamacaestir, or Vaeclingaecestir [St Albans], where afterwards, when peaceable Christian times were restored, a church of wonderful workmanship, a suitable memorial to his martyrdom, was erected. There to this day there is no lack of cures of the sick, and the frequent working of miracles.



At the same time Aaron and Julius, citizens of Caerleon, suffered, and many more of both sexes in several places. When they had endured various torments, and their limbs had been torn after an unheard of manner, they yielded up their souls, to enjoy in the heavenly city a reward for the sufferings through which they had passed.

Chapter 12 [From Chapter 11: The Romans ceased to rule in Britain nearly 470 years after Gaius Julius Caesar came to the island.] From then on the southern part of Britain, destitute of armed soldiers, of military supplies, and stripped of all its active young men, who had been taken away by the rashness of the emperors never to return, was wholly exposed to plunder since the British were totally ignorant of the use of weapons. They suffered for many years under two very savage foreign nations, the Irish from the west, and the Picts from the north. I call these foreign nations, not on account of their being located out of Britain, but because they were remote from that part of it which was possessed by the Britons. Two inlets of the sea lie between them, one of which runs far into the land of Britain, from the eastern ocean, and the other from the west, though they do not reach so as to touch one another. … On account of the invasion of these nations, the Britons sent messengers to Rome with mournful appeals for help, promising perpetual subjection, if only their enemies could be driven away. An armed legion was immediately sent, which arrived on the island and engaged the enemy, slew a great multitude of them and drove the rest


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out of the territories of the Britons. Having delivered them from their cruel oppressors, they advised the British to build a wall between the two seas across the island to protect them and keep off the enemy. Then the Romans returned home with great triumph. … But the enemies of the British, when they realized that the Roman soldiers had gone, immediately came by sea, broke into the borders, trampled and overran everywhere, and bore down all before them like men mowing ripe corn So messengers were again sent to Rome, imploring aid, lest their wretched country should be utterly extirpated, and the name of a Roman province, so long renowned, might be overthrown by the cruelties of barbarous foreigners and become utterly contemptible. A legion was accordingly sent again, and, arriving unexpectedly in autumn, made great slaughter of the enemy, forcing all those that could escape to flee beyond the sea, where before they had carried off booty without any opposition Then the Romans told the Britons that they could not for the future undertake such troublesome expeditions for their sake and advised them rather to handle their weapons like men, and undertake for themselves the charge of engaging their enemies, who would not prove too powerful for them unless they were deterred by cowardice. Thinking that it might be some help to those whom they were forced to abandon, they built a strong stone wall from sea to sea, in a straight line between the towns that had been there built for fear of the enemy, and not far from the trench of Severus. This famous wall, which can still be seen, was built at public and private expense, the Britons also lending their assistance. It is eight feet in breadth, and twelve in height, in a straight line from east to west, and is still visible to visitors. When this was finished, the Romans gave that dispirited people good



advice, with patterns to furnish them with arms. Besides, they built towers on the sea coast to the south, at proper distances where their ships were, because there also the attacks of the barbarians were feared, and so took leave of their friends, never to return again. After their departure, the Irish and the Picts, understanding that the Romans had declared they would come no more, speedily returned, and growing more confident than they had been before, occupied all the northern and farthest part of the island, as far as the wall. Then a timid guard was placed upon the wall, where they pined away day and night in the utmost fear. On the other side, the enemy attacked them with hooked weapons, by which the cowardly defenders were dragged from the wall, and dashed to the ground. At last, the Britons, forsaking their cities and the wall, took to flight and were dispersed. The enemy pursued, and the slaughter was greater than on any former occasion; for the wretched natives were torn in pieces by their enemies, as lambs are torn by wild beasts. So being expelled from their dwellings and possessions, they saved themselves from starvation by robbing and plundering one another, adding to the calamities occasioned by foreigners by their own domestic broils, till the whole country was left destitute of food, except such as could be procured in the chase.

Chapter 15 In the year of our Lord 449, Marcian was made emperor with Valentinian, the forty-sixth from Augustus, and ruled the empire for seven years. Then the nation of the Angles, or Saxons, being


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invited by King Vortigern, arrived in Britain with three long ships, and a place in which to live was granted them by the same king in the eastern part of the island, where they might seem to be fighting for the country though their real intention was to conquer it. First, the Saxons fought the enemy who attacked from the north and gained the victory. When this was known at home in their own land, together with an account of the fertility of the country, and the cowardice of the Britons, a larger fleet was quickly sent over bringing a still greater number of men, which with the former invaders made up an invincible army. The newcomers received from the Britons land on which to settle on condition that they should wage war against their enemies for the peace and security of the country; the Britons agreed also to pay them. Those who came over were from the three most powerful Germanic tribes, Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the people of Kent and of the Isle of Wight, and those also in the province of the West Saxons located opposite to the Isle of Wight who are to this day called Jutes. From the Saxons, that is, the country which is now called Old Saxony, came the East Saxons, the South Saxons, and the West Saxons. From the Angles, that is, the country which is called Anglia (which is said to remain deserted from that day to this), which lies between the kingdoms of the Jutes and the Saxons, are descended the East Angles, the Midland Angles, the Mercians, and all the race of the Northumbrians, that is, of those nations that dwell on the North side of the river Humber, as well as other Anglian tribes. … The two first leaders are said to have been two brothers, Hengist and Horsa. Horsa was killed in battle by the Britons and was buried



in the eastern part of Kent, where a monument bearing his name is still in existence. They were the sons of Wihtgisl, son of Witta, son of Wecta, son of Woden from whose stock the royal race of many kingdoms claimed descent. Soon the hordes of people who came over eagerly into the island began to increase so much that they became terrible to the natives who had invited them. Then, having suddenly made a temporary treaty with the Picts, whom they had by this time repelled by the force of their arms, they began to turn their weapons against their former confederates. …

Chapter 16 When the enemy army had destroyed and dispersed the native peoples, they returned their own settlements. The Britons began by degrees to take heart and gather strength. They came out of the hiding places where they had concealed themselves, unanimously imploring the help of God so that they might not utterly be destroyed. They had at that time for their leader Ambrosius Aurelianus, a modest man, who alone of the Roman nation had, by chance, survived the storm, in which his parents, who were of the royal race had perished. Under him the Britons revived, and offering battle to the victors, and by the help of God came off victorious. From that day, sometimes the Britons, and sometimes their enemies, prevailed, till the year of the siege of Badon Hill, when the Britons made no small slaughter of those invaders, about forty four years after their arrival in Britain.


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Chapter 22 In Britain there was some respite from foreign, but not from civil war. There still remained the ruins of cities destroyed by the enemy and abandoned; and the citizens who had escaped the enemy, now fought against each other. However, the kings, priests, private men, and the nobility still remembered the late calamities and slaughters, and to some extent kept within bounds; but when these died, and another generation succeeded, which knew nothing of those times, and was only acquainted with the present peaceable state of things, all the bonds of sincerity and justice were so entirely broken, that there was not only no trace of them remaining, but few persons seemed to be aware that such virtues had ever existed. Among other most wicked actions, not to be expressed, which their own historian, Gildas, mournfully takes notice of, they added this that they never preached the faith to the Saxons or English, who dwelt amongst them; however, the goodness of God did not forsake his people whom He foreknew, but sent to that nation much more worthy preachers, to bring it to the faith.

Chapter 23 In the year of our Lord 582, Maurice became emperor. … In the tenth year of his reign, Gregory, a man eminent both for learning and for action was elected pontiff of the apostolic see of Rome. In the fourteenth year of this emperor and about 150 years after the coming of the Angles to Britain, Gregory, prompted by the inspiration of God,



sent a servant of God, Augustine, with several other God-fearing monks to preach to the English. In obedience to the Pope’s orders they undertook this task and had begun their journey when they became paralysed with fear. They began to think of returning home rather than going to a barbarous, fierce and unbelieving race whose language they did not understand. They therefore sent back Augustine, whom Gregory had intented to have consecrated as their bishop if the English received them, to beg permission to give up this dangerous, wearisome and uncertain journey. However, Gregory sent them a letter to encourage them to persevere in the work of preaching the Word, trusting in the help of God: This was the letter; ‘Gregory, the servant of the servants of God, to the servants of our Lord. It would have been better not to have begun a good work rather than to think of giving up something you have undertaken: so my beloved sons, you ought to complete the good work, which, by the help of the Lord, you have undertaken. Do not, therefore, let the toil of the journey, nor the tongues of evil-speaking men deter you; but with all possible earnestness and zeal perform that which, by God’s direction, you have undertaken; being assured, that much labour is followed by an eternal reward. When Augustine, your prior, now by my appointment your abbot, returns, humbly obey him in all things; knowing, that whatsoever you shall do by his direction, will, in all respects, be profitable to your souls. Almighty God protect you with his grace, and grant that I may, in the heavenly country, see the fruits of your labour. Though I cannot labour with you, I shall partake in the joy of the reward, because I would be willing to undertake such labour. God keep you in safety, my most beloved sons. Dated the 23rd of July, in the fourteenth year of the reign of our pious and most


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august lord, Maurice Tiberius, the thirteenth year after the consulship of our said lord and the fourteenth indiction.’

Chapter 25 Augustine, strengthened by the encouragement of the blessed father Gregory, returned to the work of preaching the word of God and arrived in Britain with the servants of Christ. The powerful Aethelberht was at that time king of Kent; he had extended his dominions as far as the great river Humber, by which the southern Angles are divided from the northern. To the east of Kent is the large island of Thanet containing, according to the English way of reckoning, six hundred hides, divided from the main land by the river Wantsum, which is about three furlongs wide, and fordable only in two places, for both ends of it run into the sea. It was here that the servant of the Lord, Augustine, and his companions, being, it is said, nearly forty in number, landed. They had taken interpreters from the nation of the Franks by order of blessed Pope Gregory. They sent word to Aethelberht to say that that they had come from Rome, bearing a joyful message, that is, a sure and certain promise to all that received it of everlasting joys in heaven and a kingdom that would never end with the living and true God. When the king heard this, he ordered them to stay on the island where they had landed, and he provided them with all they needed, until he should decide what to do with them. For he had heard before of the Christian religion, having a Christian wife called Bertha of the royal family of the Franks, whom he had received



from her parents upon condition that she should be permitted to practise her religion freely with Bishop Luidhard, who was sent with her to support her faith. Some days later the king came into the island, and sitting in the open air, ordered Augustine and his companions to come and talk with him. He was careful not meet them inside a house, lest, according to an ancient superstition, if they practised any magical arts, they might deceive him, and get the better of him there. But they came furnished with divine not with devilish power, bearing a silver cross for their banner, and the image of our Lord and Saviour painted on a board. Chanting the litany, they offered up their prayers to the Lord for the eternal salvation both of themselves and of those to whom they had come. When Augustine, following the king’s command, was seated, he preached the word of life to him and his attendants who were present, and the king replied, ‘Your words and promises are very fair, but as they are new to us, and doubtful, I cannot approve of them and forsake that which I and the whole English nation have so long followed. But because you have come a long way to my kingdom, and, as I see, desire to share with us those things which you believe to be true and good, we will not harm you, but we will give you hospitality, and take care to supply you with all you need; nor do we forbid you to preach and gain as many as you can to your religion.’ So he gave them a place to live in the city of Canterbury, which was the centre of all his dominions, and as he had promised, besides allowing them sustenance, did not refuse them freedom to preach. It is reported that, as they drew near to the city, as was their custom, with the holy cross, and the image of the great Lord and King Jesus Christ, they sang together this litany: ‘We beseech Thee, O Lord, in Thy mercy,


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

that thy anger and wrath be turned away from this city, and from this holy house, for we have sinned. Alleluia.’

Chapter 26 As soon as they entered the dwelling place assigned them they began to imitate the way of life practised in the early Church; applying themselves to frequent prayer, watching and fasting; preaching the word of life to as many as they could; despising all worldly things, as not belonging to them; receiving only their necessary food from those they taught; living themselves in all respects conformably to what they prescribed to others, and being always ready to suffer any adversity, and even to die for the truth which they preached. In short, some believed and were baptized, admiring the simplicity of their innocent life, and the sweetness of their heavenly doctrine. There was on the east side of the city a church dedicated to St Martin, built whilst the Romans were still in the island, in which the queen, who was a Christian, used to pray. It was here that they first began to meet, to sing, to pray, to say mass, to preach, and to baptize, till the king should be converted to the faith, and allow them to preach openly, and build or repair churches in all places. When at last King Aethelberht, attracted among others by the simple and innocent way of life of these holy men, and their delightful promises, which, by many miracles, they proved to be most certain, believed and was baptized, greater numbers began daily to flock together to hear the word, and, forsaking their pagan rites, to associate themselves, by believing, to the unity of the Church of Christ. The king so far encouraged their conversion, that, while he compelled no-one



to embrace Christianity, he showed more affection to believers, as his fellow citizens in the heavenly kingdom. He had learned from his instructors and leaders to salvation that the service of Christ ought to be voluntary, not by compulsion. Nor was it long before he gave his preachers a settled residence in his city of Canterbury, with such goods of different kinds as were necessary for their existence. From Book II, Chapter 5: King Aethelberht died on February 24th, twenty-one years after he had received the faith, and was buried in St Martin’s porch within the church of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, where also lies his queen, Bertha. Among other benefits which he gave to this nation, he also, by the advice of wise persons, introduced judicial decrees, after the Roman model; which were written in English and are still kept and observed by them.

Chapter 31 Pope Gregory sent Augustine a letter concerning the miracles that he had heard had been wrought by him admonishing him not to incur the danger of being puffed up by the number of them. The letter was in these words: ‘I know, dearest brother, that Almighty God out of his love for you has worked great miracles for the race which he wills to number among the chosen. It is necessary that you rejoice with trembling, and tremble whilst you rejoice, on account of this heavenly gift. You may rejoice because the souls of the English are by outward miracles


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

drawn to inward grace; but you should fear, lest among the wonders that are wrought, the unstable mind may be puffed up in its own self-esteem, and as it is externally raised to honour, it may by that same means inwardly fall by vainglory. For we must remember that when the disciples returned with joy after preaching, and said to their heavenly master, “Lord, in thy name, even the devils are subject to us”; they were presently told, “Do not rejoice on this account, but rather rejoice for that your names are written in heaven.” [Luke 10.20] For they had placed their thoughts on private and temporal joy when they rejoiced in their own miracles; but they were recalled from the private to the public joy, and from temporal to eternal joy, when it was said to them, “Rejoice for this, because your names are written in heaven.” [Luke 10.20] For those not all the elect work miracles, and yet all their names are written in heaven. For these who are disciples of the truth ought not to rejoice, save for that good thing which all men enjoy as well as they, and of which their enjoyment shall be without end. ‘It remains, therefore, most dear brother, that amidst those things, which through the power of the Lord you perform outwardly, you must always strictly judge yourself inwardly, and clearly understand both what you are yourself, and how much grace is shown to the people for whose conversion you have received the gift of working miracles. And if you remember that you have at any time offended the Creator, either by word or deed, always call it to mind, so that the remembrance of your guilt may crush any vanity which rises in your heart. And whatever you shall receive, or have received, in relation to working miracles, consider this not to be conferred on you, but on those for whose salvation it has been given you.’



Chapter 34 At this time, Aethelfrith, a very powerful king, and eager for glory, ruled in Northumbria and ravaged the Britons more than any other English ruler. For that he might be compared to Saul, once king of the Israelites, except that he was ignorant of true religion. He conquered more territories from the Britons than any other king or ruler, either making them tributary, or driving the inhabitants out altogether and planting the English in their places. To him might justly be applied the saying of the patriarch when blessing his son in the person of Saul, ‘Benjamin shall ravine as a wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.’ (Genesis 49.27) Then Aedan, king of the Irish that live in Britain, was aroused by Aethelfrith’s success and came against him with an immense and mighty army; but was beaten by the inferior force, and put to flight; for almost all his army was slain at a famous place, called Degsastan, that is, the stone of Degsa. From Book II, Chapter 2: Aethelfrith gathered together a great army to attack the ‘city of the legions’ called ‘Legacaestir’ by the English and more correctly by the British ‘Caerlegion’ [Chester]. When battle was about to be joined, he noticed the British priests, who had come to offer up prayers to God for the soldiers, standing apart in a place of safety and he asked who they were and for what purpose they had come there. Most of them were from the monastery of Bangor, in which, it is said, there were so many monks that when the monastery was divided into seven parts,


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

with a ruler over each, no section had less than three hundred men, who all used to live by the labour of their hands. After fasting for three days most of these monks came to pray with the others during the battle. Brocmail was appointed as their protector, to defend them against the swords of the barbarians whilst they were praying. When King Aethelfrith was told why they had come he said, ‘If they cry to their God against us, in truth, though they do not bear arms, yet they fight against us, because they oppose us by their prayers.’ So he ordered the monks to be attacked first, and then destroyed the rest of the impious army, not without considerable loss of his own forces. About twelve hundred of those that came to pray are said to have been killed, and only fifty to have escaped by flight. At the first approach of the enemy, Brocmail and his men had turned their backs and left those whom he ought to have defended, unarmed and exposed to the swords of the enemies.


Translations are given for selected chapters, indicated in bold. 1. The death of the Blessed Pope Gregory. 2. How Augustine admonished the bishops of the Britons about catholic peace, and performed a heavenly miracle in their presence; and of the vengeance that overtook them for their contempt. (see pp.63–4) 3. How Augustine made Mellitus and Justus bishops; and about his death. 4. How Laurentius and his bishops warned the Irish to observe the unity of holy Church, particularly in keeping Easter; Mellitus went to Rome. 5. How, after the death of the kings Aethelberht and Saeberht, their successors restored idolatry; for which reason, both Mellitus and Justus left Britain. 6. How Laurence was reproved by the apostle Peter, and converted King Eadbald to Christ; and how Mellitus and Justus were recalled to their ministry. 7. How Bishop Mellitus by his prayers quenched a fire in his city. 8. How Pope Boniface sent the pallium and a letter to Justus, successor to Mellitus.


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

9. Of the reign of King Edwin, and how Paulinus came to preach the Gospel to him; how first he converted his daughter and others to the faith of Christ. 10. How Pope Boniface exhorted the same king by letter to embrace the Faith. 11. Pope Boniface’s letter, urging Queen Aethelburh to do her best for the salvation of her consort, King Edwin. 12. How King Edwin was persuaded to believe by a vision which he had seen when he was in exile. 13. How he held a council with his chief men about embracing the faith of Christ, and the high priest profaned his own altars. 14. How King Edwin and his nation became Christians: and how Paulinus baptized them. 15. How the kingdom of the East Angles received the faith of Christ. 16. How Paulinus preached in the kingdom of Lindsey; about the character of the reign of Edwin. 17. A letter of exhortation from Pope Honorius to Edwin; and how he also sent Paulinus the pallium. 18. How Honorius who succeeded Justus in the bishopric of Canterbury, received the pallium and a letter from Pope Honorius. 19. How Pope Honorius first, and afterwards Pope John, wrote letters to the nation of the Irish, concerning the observance of Easter, and the Pelagian heresy.



20. How Edwin was slain, and Paulinus returned to Kent, and became the bishop of Rochester.

Chapter 1 In 605ad the blessed Pope Gregory, who had most gloriously governed the apostolic see of Rome for thirteen years, six months, and ten days, died, and was translated to the heavenly kingdom. Since by his zeal he converted our nation, the English, from the power of Satan to the faith of Christ [cf. Acts 26.18] I will say more about him in this Ecclesiastical History, for we may and indeed ought to call him ‘our apostle’, since while he held authority over all the world, and was placed over those already converted to the faith, he made our nation, till then given up to idols, into a church of Christ. We may be allowed to describe him as an apostle; for ‘though he is not an apostle to others, yet he is to us; for we are the seal of his apostleship in the Lord.’ [1 Corinthians 9.2] Nor is this story about St Gregory, which has been handed down by the tradition of our ancestors, to be passed over in silence, since it explains how he came to take such an interest in the salvation of our nation. It is said that some merchants who had just arrived at Rome one day displayed many things for sale in the marketplace, and crowds of people went there to buy. Gregory himself went with the rest. Among other things, some boys were set out for sale, their bodies white, their faces beautiful, and their hair very fair. Having seen them, it is said that Gregory asked from what country or nation they had been brought and was told they came from the island of


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Britain whose inhabitants looked like that. He inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism and was told that they were pagans. Then drawing a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart, ‘Alas,’ said he, ‘that the author of darkness should possess people of such fair countenances; and that however remarkable their graceful appearance is, their minds should be empty of inward grace.’ He then asked, what was the name of that nation and was told that they were called ‘Angli’. ‘Good,’ said he, ‘for they have angelic faces, and it is fitting for them to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven.’ ‘What is the name,’ he continued ‘of the kingdom from which they have been brought?’ The reply was that they were from a kingdom called Deiri. ‘Truly are they de ira,’ said he, ‘withdrawn from wrath, and called to the mercy of Christ. What is the king of that province called?’ They told him his name was Aelle: and making a play on this name he said, ‘Alleluia, the praise of God the Creator must be sung in those parts.’ Then he went to the bishop of the Roman see (for he was not himself then pope), and begged him to send some ministers of the word to Britain to the nation of the Angles, to converted them to Christ. He added that he was himself ready to undertake that work, by the help of God, if the pope should agree. He was not able to do this, however, because, though the pope was willing to grant his request, the citizens of Rome would not agree to let him to go so far from the city. But as soon as he was himself made pope, he fulfilled the work he had long desired to do by sending other preachers. He himself helped their preaching to be successful by his prayers and encouragement. This account, as I have received it from tradition, I have thought fit to include in this Ecclesiastical History.



From Book 1, Chapter 27: The man of God Augustine went to Arles and, as Pope Gregory had ordered, was consecrated archbishop of the English by Etherius archbishop of that city. He returned to Britain and at once sent the priest Laurence and the monk Peter to Rome to let the pope know that the English had received the faith of Christ and he himself had been made their bishop. At the same time he asked his advice about some matters that seemed urgent and received answers. [This is an example taken from Gregory’s replies to Augustine’s questions.] Augustine’s second question: While the faith is one and the same, why are there different customs in different churches? and why is one form of mass observed in the holy Roman Church, and another in the Gallican Church? Pope Gregory’s answer: You know, my brother, the custom of the Roman Church in which you recall you were brought up. But it pleases me, that if you have found anything, either in the Roman or the Gallican, or any other church, which may be more acceptable to Almighty God, you carefully make choice of the same, and sedulously teach the Church of the English, which as yet is new in the faith, whatever you can gather from various churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things. Choose, therefore, from every church those things that are holy, religious, and upright, and when you have, as it were, made them up into one body, let the minds of the English become accustomed to it.


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

From Book 1, Chapter 30: Here is another letter of Gregory to Mellitus, in which he plainly shows what care he took of the salvation of our nation: ‘To his most beloved son, the Abbot Mellitus; Gregory, the servant of the servants of God. We have been much concerned, since the departure of the group that went with you, because we have received no account of the success of your journey. When Almighty God brings you to the most reverend Bishop Augustine, our brother, tell him what I have concluded upon mature deliberation about the affairs of the English. I have decided that the temples of the idols of that nation ought not to be destroyed but let the idols that are in them be destroyed. Then let holy water be sprinkled in the temples, let altars be erected in them, and relics placed there. For if those temples are well built, they ought to be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God so that the people, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more easily visit the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they have been used to slaughter many oxen in the sacrifices to devils, some solemnity must be put in place of this for them. For instance, on the day of the dedication, or the feasts of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, let them build themselves huts of the boughs of trees near those churches which have been turned to proper use from temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting. Let the people no longer offer beasts to devils, but kill cattle to the praise of God for them to eat, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their sustenance. If some such gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may



the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface everything at once from obdurate minds; he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place, rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps. Thus the Lord made Himself known to the people of Israel in Egypt; and yet He allowed them the use of the sacrifices which they were wont to offer to the devil, in his own worship; so as to command them in his sacrifice to kill beasts, to the end that, changing their hearts, they might lay aside one part of the sacrifice, whilst they retained another; that whilst they offered the same beasts which they were wont to offer, they should offer them to God, and not to idols; and thus they would no longer be the same sacrifices. Of your kindness communicate this to our brother Augustine, that he who is there may consider how he should to order all things. God preserve you in safety, most beloved son.’

Chapter 11 [In Northumbria, King Edwin was considering conversion and the pope wrote to encourage him in this; he also wrote this letter to his wife, who was a Christian from Kent.] To the illustrious lady, his daughter, Queen Aethelburh, from Bishop Boniface, servant of the servants of God. The goodness of our Redeemer has given the means of salvation to the human race; which He rescued by the shedding of his precious blood, from the bonds of captivity to the Devil. He made his name known in various ways to the Gentiles so that they might acknowledge their


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Creator by embracing the mystery of the Christian faith. It is clear that the mystical purification of regeneration has been bestowed upon the soul of your highness by God’s bounty. I therefore rejoice greatly in the blessings and goodness of our Lord, for He has granted you, by the grace by your conversion, to kindle a spark of the orthodox religion by which He may the more easily inflame in his love the understanding, not only of your glorious husband, but also of all the nation that is subject to you. For we have been informed by those who came to tell us about the praiseworthy conversion of our illustrious son, King Eadbald, that your highness also, having received the wonderful sacrament of the Christian faith, continually excels in the performance of works pious and acceptable to God: that you likewise carefully refrain from the worship of idols, and the deceits of temples and soothsaying, and having changed your devotion, are so entirely taken up with the love of your Redeemer, so as never to cease lending your assistance to the propagation of the Christian faith. But when in fatherly love we earnestly inquired concerning your illustrious husband, we were given to understand that he still serves abominable idols, and hesitates to give ear to the voice of the preachers. This occasioned us no small grief, for that part of your body still remains a stranger to the knowledge of the supreme and undivided Trinity. Whereupon we, in our fatherly care, do not delay to admonish your Christian highness, exhorting you, that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, you will not delay to do that which, both in season and out of season [2 Timothy 4.2] is required of us; that with the cooperating power of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, your



husband also may be added to the number of Christians; to the end that you may thereby enjoy the rights of marriage in the bond of a holy and unblemished union. For it is written, ‘They two shall be in one flesh’ [Matthew 19.5]. How can it be said that there is unity between you, if he continues to be a stranger to the brightness of your faith, with dark and detestable error lying between you? So, applying yourself continually to prayer, do not cease to pray to God to grant your husband in his great mercy the benefit of his illumination; so that those whom the union of carnal affection has made in a manner one body, may, after death, continue in perpetual union, by the bond of faith. Persist, therefore, illustrious daughter, and to the utmost of your power to try and soften the hardness of his heart by teaching him God’s commandments, so that he may know how noble is the mystery which you have received by believing, and how wonderful is the reward which, by the new birth, you have merited to obtain. Inflame the coldness of his heart by the knowledge of the Holy Ghost, that by the abolition of the cold and pernicious worship of paganism, the heat of Divine faith may enlighten his understanding through your frequent exhortations. Then the testimony of holy Scripture ‘The unbelieving husband shall be saved by the believing wife’ [1 Corinthians 7.14] may appear the more conspicuous, when fulfilled by you. For to this effect you have obtained the mercy of our Lord’s goodness that you may return to your redeemer with a harvest of the fruits of faith, in return for the benefits entrusted to your hands. By the help of his mercy we do not cease to pray frequently that you may be able to perform this task.


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Having said this much, in accord with the duty of our fatherly affection, we exhort you, that when the opportunity of a messenger shall offer you will as soon as possible let us know of the success which the Almighty shall grant by you giving you the means to secure the conversion of your husband, and of the nation subject to you. This will cause our anxiety, which earnestly looks for what belongs to the salvation of you and yours, by hearing from you, to be set at rest by hearing from you. Then we, discerning more fully the brightness of God’s redemption spread among you, may with a joyful confession abundantly return due thanks to God, the Giver of all good things, and to St Peter the prince of apostles. We are moreover sending you the blessing of your protector, St Peter, the prince of the apostles, and also a silver looking-glass, and a gilt ivory comb, which we entreat your majesty will receive with the same kind affection as it is sent by us.

Chapter 13 [Paulinus was one of the companions of Augustine; he went to Northumbria as chaplain to Queen Aethelburh on her marriage to Edwin; he baptized their daughter, Eanflaed, and instructed Edwin about the faith.] When King Edwin heard what Paulinus said, he replied that he was both willing and bound to receive the faith which Paulinus taught; but that he would consult his chief men and advisors, so that if they shared his opinion, they might all be cleansed together in Christ the fountain of life. Paulinus agreed and the king did as he said; he



held a meeting of his council, and asked each one of them what he thought of the new doctrine, and the new worship that was preached. To this the chief of the priests, Coifi, immediately answered, ‘O king, consider what this is which is now preached to us; for in truth I tell you, that the religion which we have hitherto professed has, as far as I can learn, no virtue or profit in it. None of your people has applied himself more diligently to the worship of our gods than I; and yet there are many who receive greater favours from you, and are more preferred than I, and are more prosperous in all their undertakings. Now if the gods were good for any thing, they would have helped me, who have been so careful to serve them. So, if upon examination you find those new doctrines, which are now preached to us to be better and more efficacious, we should immediately accept them without delay.’ Another of the king’s chief men, approving of his words and advice, then added: ‘The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison to that time which is unknown to us, like the swift flight of a sparrow through the room where you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, with a good fire in the midst, while the storms of rain and snow rage outside. The sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, while he is inside, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of shelter, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems right to follow it.’ Moved by Divine inspiration, the other elders and king’s councillors spoke to the same effect.


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Coifi then said that he wished to hear more fully Paulinus’ discourse concerning the God whom he preached; and when Paulinus had done this by the king’s command, Coifi, hearing his words, cried out, ‘I have long since been aware that there was nothing in that which we worshipped; because however diligently I sought after truth in that worship, the less I found it. But now I freely confess, that the truth clearly appears in this preaching to be such as can confer on us the gifts of life, of salvation, and of eternal happiness. For this reason I advise, O king, that we instantly abjure and set fire to those temples and altars which we have consecrated without reaping any benefit from them.’ In short, the king publicly gave permission to Paulinus to preach the Gospel. King Edwin himself renounced idolatry and declared that he received the faith of Christ: and when he inquired of the high priest who should first profane the altars and temples of their idols, with the enclosures that were about them, he answered, ‘I will do it; for no-one is more fitting than myself to destroy those things which I worshipped through ignorance, for an example to all others, through the wisdom which has been given me by the true God.’ Then immediately, in contempt of his former superstition, he asked the king to give him arms and a stallion; and mounting it, he set out to destroy the idols; for it was not lawful for the high priest either to carry arms, or to ride on any horse but a mare. So, having girt a sword about him, with a spear in his hand, he mounted the king’s stallion and proceeded to attack the idols. The multitude, beholding it, concluded he was mad; but he lost no time, for as soon as he drew near to the temple he profaned it, casting into it the spear which he held. Rejoicing in the knowledge of the worship of the true God,



he commanded his companions to destroy the temple, with all its enclosures, by fire. This place where the idols were is still shown, not far from York, to the eastward, beyond the river Derwent, and is now called Goodmanham, where the high priest, by the inspiration of the true God, profaned and destroyed the altars which he himself had consecrated.

Chapter 14 So King Edwin with all the nobility of the kingdom, and a large number of commoners, received the faith, and the baptism of regeneration, in the eleventh year of his reign, which is the year of the incarnation of our Lord 627, and about one hundred and eighty after the coming of the English into Britain. He was baptized at York, on the holy day of Easter, the 12th of April, in the church of St Peter the Apostle, which he himself had caused to be built hastily of wood, while he was being catechized and instructed in order to receive baptism. In that city also he established a bishopric for his instructor and bishop, Paulinus. But as soon as he was baptized, he took care, by the direction of the same Paulinus, to build in the same place a larger and nobler church of stone, in the midst of which that same oratory which he had first erected should be enclosed. When he had laid the foundation, he began to build the square church, enclosing the former oratory. But before the whole was raised to the proper height, the cruel death of the king left that work to be finished by Oswald his successor. For six years from that time, that is, till the end of the reign of that king, Paulinus by his consent and favour, preached the word of God


Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

in that country, and all that were preordained to eternal life believed and were baptized. Among whom were Osfrith and Eadfrith, King Edwin’s sons, who were both born to him, whilst he was in exile, of Cwenburh, the daughter of Ceorl, king of the Mercians. Afterwards other children of his by Queen Aethelburh were baptized, Aethelhun and a daughter Aethelthryth, and another son, Uscfrea; the first two were snatched out of this life whilst they were still in their white garments, and buried in the church at York. Yffi, the son of Osfrith, was also baptized, and many more noble and royal people. It is said that so great was the fervour of faith and the desire for the washing of salvation among the nation of the Northumbrians, that once when Paulinus was visiting the king and queen at their royal country-seat, which is called Yeavering, he stayed there with them thirty-six days, fully occupied in teaching and baptizing. During those days, from morning till night, he did nothing else but instruct the people who came in from all villages and districts in Christ’s saving word; and he washed them when instructed with the water of salvation in the river Glen, which is close by. Under the kings who succeeded Edwin, this town was abandoned, and another was built instead of it, at the place called Maelmin. All this happened in the province of the Bernicians. But also in the kingdom of Deira, where Paulinus often used to stay with the king; he baptized in the river Swale, which runs by the town of Catterick; for as yet chapels and baptisteries could not be made in the early days of the church in those parts. He built a church in Campodonum, where there was also a palace. But afterwards the pagans, by whom King Edwin was slain, burnt the church together with all the buildings. In its place later kings built themselves a country-seat in the region



called Loidis [Leeds]. But the altar, being of stone, escaped the fire and is still preserved in the monastery of the most reverend abbot and priest, Thrydwulf, which is in the forest of Elmet.

Chapter 15 Edwin was so devoted to the true religion, that he persuaded Eorpwold, king of the East Saxons, and son of Raedwald, to abandon his idolatrous superstitions, and with his whole kingdom to receive the faith and sacraments of Christ. In fact his father Raedwald had long before been admitted to the sacrament of the Christian faith in Kent, but in vain; for on his return home, he was led away by his wife and certain perverse teachers, and turned back from the sincerity of faith; and thus his latter state was worse than the former [cf. Luke 2.26], so that, like the ancient Samaritans, he seemed at the same time to serve Christ and the gods whom he had served before; and in the same temple he had an altar to sacrifice to Christ, and another small one to offer victims to devils. Ealdwulf, king of that same kingdom in our time testifies that this temple existed till his time and that he had seen it when he was a boy. This King Raedwald was noble by birth, though ignoble in his actions, being the son of Tytil, whose father was Wuffa, from whom the kings of the East Angles are called Wuffings. Eorpwold was killed not long after he had embraced the Christian faith, slain by Ricberht, a pagan; and from that time the kingdom remained in error for three years, till the crown came into the possession of Sigeberht, brother of Eorpwold. He was a devout Christian and very learned man, who had been banished and lived


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in Gaul during his brother’s lifetime. He received the sacraments of the faith while he was there and as soon as he came to the throne he made it his business to cause all his kingdom to share his faith. His exertions were supported very strongly by the Bishop Felix who had been born and ordained in Burgundy. He went to Honorius, the archbishop and told him what he desired and Honorius sent him to preach the word of life to the nation of the Angles. Nor were his good desires in vain; for the pious husbandman reaped therein a large harvest of believers. He delivered all that kingdom (according to the signification of his name, Felix) from long iniquity and infelicity, and brought it to the faith and works of righteousness, and the gifts of everlasting felicity. Felix received the see of his bishopric in the city of Dunwich, and having presided over the same kingdom as bishop seventeen years, he ended his days there in peace.

Chapter 16 Paulinus also preached the word to the province of Lindsey, which is the first on the south side of the river Humber, stretching out as far as the sea; and his first convert was the governor of the city of Lincoln, whose name was Blaecca, with his whole family. He built in that city a stone church of beautiful workmanship; the roof of it either fell in through age, or was thrown down by enemies, but the walls are still to be seen standing, and every year some miraculous cures are wrought in that place, for the benefit of those who have faith to seek them. In that church, when Justus departed to Christ, Paulinus consecrated Honorius bishop in his stead.



An abbot and priest of the monastery of Partney, a man of singular veracity, whose name was Deda, told me in relation to the faith of this kingdom that a very old man had told him that he himself had been baptized at noon-day by the Bishop Paulinus, in the presence of King Edwin, with a great number of the people, in the river Trent, near the city, which in the English tongue is called Littleborough. He also used to describe the appearance of Paulinus as tall of stature, a little stooping, his hair black, his face thin, his nose slender and aquiline, his aspect both venerable and majestic. He had also with him in the ministry, James, the deacon, a man of zeal and great fame in Christ’s Church, who lived even to our time. It is said that there was then such perfect peace in Britain, wherever the dominion of King Edwin extended, that, as the proverb still has it, a woman with her newborn babe might walk throughout the island, from sea to sea, without receiving any harm. That king took such care for the good of his nation, that in several places where he had seen clear springs near the highways he caused stakes to be fixed, with brass dishes hanging from them, for the refreshment of travellers. No-one dared to touch them for any other purpose than that for which they were designed, either through the fear they had of the king, or for the affection which they bore him. His dignity was so great throughout his realm that his banners were not only borne before him in battle, but even in time of peace when he rode about his cities, estates and kingdoms, with his thegns, the standard-bearer used to go before him. Also, when he walked along the streets, that sort of banner which the Romans call ‘tufa’, and the English, ‘thuf ’ used to be borne before him.


Translations are given for selected chapters, indicated in bold. 1. How King Edwin’s successors lost both their faith and their kingdom; but the most Christian King Oswald restored both. 2. How, when King Oswald was ready to engage in battle against the barbarians, he erected a wooden cross; innumerable miraculous cures were wrought by the cross, including one when a certain youth who had his injured arm was healed. 3. How King Oswald asked the Irish nation for a bishop and Aidan was sent him; he granted him an episcopal see on the island of Lindisfarne. 4. How the nation of the Picts received the faith. 5. The life of Bishop Aidan. 6. King Oswald’s wonderful piety. 7. How the West Saxons received the Word of God by the preaching of Birinus; his successors were Agilbert and Leuthere. 8. How Eorconberht, king of Kent, ordered the idols to be destroyed; his daughter Eorcongota, and his kinswoman Aethelburh, became nuns, consecrated to God.



9. How miraculous cures were frequently done in the place where King Oswald was killed; and how, first, a traveller’s horse was restored and afterwards a young girl was cured of the palsy. 10. The power of the soil of that place against fire. 11. How a heavenly light appeared all the night over the bones of King Oswald, and those possessed by devils were cured by them. 12. How a boy was cured of a fever at his tomb. 13. How someone from Ireland was cured when at the point of death by the bones of King Oswald. 14. How, on the death of Paulinus, Ithamar, was made bishop of Rochester in his place; and of the wonderful humility of King Oswine, who was cruelly slain by Oswiu. 15. How Bishop Aidan told certain sailors that a storm would happen and gave them some holy oil to calm it. 16. Aidan, by his prayers, saved the royal city when fire was started there by the enemy. 17. How the post of the church on which Bishop Aidan was leaning when he died could not be burnt when the rest of the church was consumed by fire. About his spiritual life. 18. The life and death of the devout King Sigeberht. 19. How Fursa built a monastery among the East Angles; his visions and sanctity were attested by the fact that his flesh remained uncorrupted after death. 20. How when Honorius died, Deusdedit was chosen archbishop


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of Canterbury; about those who were at that time made bishops of the East Angles, and of the Church of Rochester. 21. How the kingdom of the Middle Angles became Christian under King Peada. 22. How the East Saxons who had for a long time rejected the faith were converted by the preaching of Cedd. 23. How Bishop Cedd was given a place by King Oethelwald on which to build a monastery and consecrated it to the Lord with prayer and fasting; about his death. 24. How, when King Penda was slain, the Mercians received the faith of Christ, and Oswiu gave possessions and territories to God for building monasteries, in acknowledgment of the victory he had obtained. 25. How the controversy arose with those that came from Ireland about the proper time to keep Easter. 26. How Colman returned home defeated; and how Tuda succeeded him in the bishopric; the state of the Church under those teachers. 27. How Egbert, a holy man of the English nation, led a monastic life in Ireland. 28. How, on the death of Tuda, Wilfrid was ordained in France, and Chad in Wessex, to be bishops of the Northumbrians. 29. How the priest Wigheard was sent from Britain to Rome, to be consecrated archbishop; and how a letter from the pope gave an account of his death there.



30. How the East Saxons returned to idolatry during a pestilence, but were immediately brought back from their error by the zeal of Bishop Jaruman.

Chapter 1 After Edwin had been killed in battle by Penda of Mercia and Cadwallon [ap Cadfan], king of the Britons, at Hatfield Chase 633, the kingdom of Deira passed to his nephew Osric, who had been baptized by Paulinus; … the other half of the kingdom, Bernicia, went to Eanfrith, son of Aethelfrith. … But no sooner had these two kings received the sceptres of their earthly kingdoms than they renounced and betrayed the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom. … Very soon afterwards Cadwallon, king of the Britons, killed them both … and occupied the kingdom for a year. … Oswald, brother of Eanfrith, who had been in exile among the Irish and had received baptism there, came into Northumbria with an army, small in numbers but strong in their faith in Christ, and destroyed the abominable leader of the Britons, with the huge force which he had claimed was irresistible, at a place called Denisesburn in English, that is at the brook of the Denise.

Chapter 2 The place is shown to this day and held in much veneration, where, when Oswald was about to engage in battle, he erected the sign of the holy cross and on his knees prayed to God that he would help


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his worshippers in their great need. It is said that when a cross had been made in haste, and a hole dug in which it was to stand, the king himself, full of faith, laid hold of it and held it with both his hands, till the soldiers had set it fast by throwing in earth. When this was done he raised his voice and called out to his army, ‘Let us all kneel, and pray together to the true and living God Almighty in his mercy to defend us from the proud and fierce enemy; for He knows that we have undertaken a just war for the safety of our nation.’ They all did as he had commanded, and then advanced towards the enemy at dawn and obtained the victory which their faith deserved. In that place of prayer very many miraculous cures are known to have taken place, as a token and memorial of the king’s faith. Even to this day, many cut off small chips from the wood of the holy cross and put them into water, which they then give to sick men or cattle to drink or they sprinkle them with it, and they are immediately restored to health. The place is called Heavenfield in English, or in Latin, Caelestis campus, a name it was given formerly as a presage of what was to happen, denoting that there the heavenly trophy would be erected, the heavenly victory begun, and heavenly miracles be wrought which continue to this day. The place on its north side is near the wall with which the Romans had formerly enclosed the island from sea to sea, to keep off the fury of barbarous nations. The brothers of the Church of Hexham which is not far away go there each year on the day before that on which King Oswald was slain, to keep vigil for the health of his soul, and having sung many psalms, to offer for him in the morning the sacrifice of the holy oblation. Since that good custom has spread, they have lately built and consecrated a church there, which has given additional sanctity and honour to that place



and this with good reason, for it seems that there was no sign of the Christian faith, no church, no altar erected throughout all the nation of the Bernicians, before Oswald, the new commander of the army, inspired by the devotion of his faith, set up the cross as he was going to give battle to his savage enemy. …

Chapter 4 In 565ad when Justin the younger, the successor of Justinian, ruled the Roman empire, there came to Britain a renowned priest and abbot, a true monk by habit and by life, whose name was Columba. He came to preach the word of God in the kingdoms of the northern Picts, who are separated from the southern parts by steep and rugged mountains. It is said that the southern Picts, who live on this side of those mountains, had long before forsaken the errors of idolatry and embraced the truth, by the preaching of Ninian, a most revered and holy man of the British nation, who had received orthodox teaching at Rome, in the faith and mysteries of the truth. His episcopal see is famous for its church dedicated to St Martin the bishop, where he and many other saints are buried; it is now held by the English. The place belongs to the kingdom of Bernicia, and is generally called the White House [Whithorn], because Ninian built a church of stone there which was not usual among the Britons. Columba came into Britain in the ninth year of the reign of Bridius, who was the son of Maelchon, a powerful king of the Picts. He converted them to the faith of Christ, by his preaching and example, and therefore he received from them the island of Iona to


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build a monastery there. It is not very large, being about five hides, according to English reckoning. His successors hold the island to this day; he was buried there when he died at the age of seventy-seven, about thirty-two years after he came to Britain to preach. Before he came to Britain, he had built a famous monastery in Ireland which, from its great number of oaks, is called in Irish Dearmach [Durrow], the Field of Oaks. From both monasteries many others were founded by his disciples, both in Britain and Ireland, over all of which the monastery on the island where his body lies is the chief. That island always has for its ruler an abbot who is a priest, to whose direction all the kingdom and even the bishops, contrary to the usual method, are subject, after the example of their first teacher, who was not a bishop, but a priest and monk. Some written records of Columba’s life and teaching are said to be preserved by his disciples. Whatever he was himself, we know for certain that he left successors renowned for their austerity, their love of God, and observance of monastic rules. It is true they followed inaccurate tables in their observance of the great festival, because they had no-one to bring them the synodal decrees for the observance of Easter, since they were so far away at the ends of the earth. But they diligently did such works of piety and chastity as they could learn from the words of the prophets, evangelists, and apostles. This way of keeping Easter continued among them for the space of 150 years, till 715ad. It was then that most reverend and holy father and priest, Egbert, of the English nation came to them. He had lived for a long time in exile in Ireland for the sake of Christ, and was very learned in the Scriptures, and renowned for his long and holy life. He corrected their errors and introduced them to the true and canonical calculation of



Easter. They did not keep Easter on the fourteenth moon like the Jews, as some imagined, but on Sunday, although not in the proper week. For as Christians, they knew that the resurrection of our Lord happened on the first day after the Sabbath and so was always to be celebrated on the first day after the Sabbath; but being rude and barbarous, they had not learned when that same first day after the Sabbath, which is now called the Lord’s day, should come. But because they were not without the fervent grace of charity, they were counted worthy to be told about the true knowledge of this, according to the promise of the apostle, saying, ‘And if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.’ [Philippians 3.15]

Chapter 5 It was from the island of Iona and its monks that Aidan was sent to instruct the English nation about Christ, after he had been consecrated as a bishop which was when the priest Segene was abbot and presided over that monastery. As well as instruction about their conduct, Aidan gave the clergy a most salutary example of abstinence and continence which was the best recommendation of his doctrine to all; he taught nothing other than what he and his followers lived. He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in giving at once to the poor whatever was given him by the kings or rich men of the world. He used to travel in both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent need; and wherever he came across anyone on his way, rich or poor, he invited them, if they were unbelievers to embrace the mystery of the faith, or


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if they were believers he would strengthen their faith, and stir them up by words and actions to almsgiving and good works. Aidan’s way of life was very different from the slothfulness of our times. All his companions, whether they were monks or laymen, were engaged in meditation, that is, either in reading the Scriptures, or learning psalms. This was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him wherever they went; and if it happened, which was seldom, that he was invited to eat with the king, he went with one or two of his clergy and having taken a small meal, made haste to leave with them in order either to read or pray. At that time, many religious men and women, stirred up by his example, adopted the custom of fasting throughout the year on Wednesdays and Fridays till the ninth hour, except during the fifty days after Easter. He did not keep silence out of respect or out of fear about the sins of the rich, but he would correct them with stern rebukes. If he happened to entertain powerful men of the world, he never gave them money but only food. On the contrary, if he received gifts of money from the rich, he either distributed them to the poor, or used them to ransom such as had been wrongfully sold as slaves. Moreover, he afterwards made many of those whom he had ransomed his disciples, and after having trained and instructed them, ordained them as priests. It is said that when King Oswald had asked for a bishop from the Irish to administer the word of faith to him and his nation, another man of harsher disposition was sent to him first. He met with no success; the English would not listen to him. So he returned home, and reported to the assembly of the elders that he had not been able to do any good to the nation he had been sent to preach to,



because they were uncivilized men, and of a stubborn and barbarous disposition. It is said that the council seriously debated what was to be done, since they were anxious that the nation who had asked for help should receive the salvation it demanded, and were sorry that the preacher sent to them had not been received. Then Aidan, who was present in the council, said to the priest they were talking about, ‘In my opinion, brother, you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been and did not at first, in accordance with the apostolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine [1 Corinthians 3.2] till being by degrees nourished with the Word of God, they should be capable of greater perfection, and be able to practise God’s more transcendent precepts.’ Having heard these words, all eyes were turned to Aidan, and those present began to consider carefully what he had said, and concluded that he ought to be made a bishop, and sent to instruct the unbelievers and unlearned, since they saw that he was endowed with singular discretion, which is the mother of all virtues. So he was ordained and they sent him to their friend, King Oswald, to preach. As time proved, Aidan appeared to possess many other virtues, as well as that discretion for which he was first known.

Chapter 6 King Oswald, with the nation of the English which he governed, was instructed by the teaching of this most reverend prelate, and he not only learned to hope for a heavenly kingdom unknown to his predecessors but also obtained of the same Almighty God, who made


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heaven and earth, greater earthly kingdoms than any of his ancestors. In fact, he brought under his sway all the nations and provinces of Britain, which are divided into four languages, that is, the Britons, the Picts, the Irish and the English. Though he was raised to that height of dominion over all the land, yet — wonderful to relate — he always continued humble, affable, and generous to the poor and strangers. For example, it is said that once when the king was sitting at dinner with Aidan, on the holy day of Easter, a silver dish full of rich food was put before him. They were just about to bless the bread, when the servant whom the king had appointed to relieve the poor came in suddenly and told him that a great crowd of people in need from everywhere were sitting outside, begging alms of the king. He immediately ordered the food that had been set before him to be carried to the poor, and the dish to be broken up and the pieces divided among them. When he saw this the bishop who sat by him was so impressed by such an act of piety that he took hold of Oswald’s right hand, and said, ‘May this hand never perish!’ Now what he had said came about, for when Oswald was killed in battle, his arm and hand were cut from his body, and they remain entire and uncorrupted to this day. They are kept in a silver case, as revered relics, in St Peter’s church in the royal city of Bamburgh, which takes its name from Bebba, one of its former queens. Through this king’s efforts, the provinces of the Deira and Bernicia, which till then had been at strife, were peacefully united and molded into one people. He was nephew to King Edwin by his sister Acha; and it was fit that so great a predecessor should have in his own family so great a person to succeed him in his religion and rule.



Chapter 14 [Oswald’s brother, Oswiu, succeeded him as king of the part of Northumbria called Bernicia and began his reign with conflict, arising from enmity for his brother Oswine who was his co-ruler in the part of Northumbria called Deira. Oswine was a close friend of Aidan.] After the death of Oswald, his brother Oswiu succeeded to the kingdom. … He had at the beginning of his reign a partner in the kingship called Oswine. Oswine was a descendant of King Edwin, and son to Osric. He was a man of wonderful piety and devotion, who governed the province of the Deira for seven years in great prosperity, and was himself beloved by all men. But Oswiu, who ruled over all of the northern part of the nation beyond the Humber — that is, the province of Bernicia — could not live at peace with Oswine; on the contrary, the causes of their disagreement grew, and he had him murdered most cruelly. When they had raised armies against one another, Oswine had realized that he could not win a war against one who had more troops than himself, and he thought it better at that time to lay aside all thoughts of engaging in battle and wait for better times. He therefore dismissed the army which he had assembled at Wilfare’s Hill about ten miles north-west of the village of Catterick and sent all his men home. He himself with only one trusted thegn whose name was Tonhere, withdrew and lay hidden in the house of a gesith [an official] called Hunwald, whom he imagined to be his friend. But, alas! it was otherwise; for Hunwald betrayed him in a detestable manner and slew both Oswine and the thegn who was his


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companion by the hand of a reeve called Aethelwine. This happened on the 20th of August, in the ninth year of his reign, at a place called Gilling, where later on, to atone for Oswiu’s crime, a monastery was built, wherein prayers were to be daily offered up to God for the souls of both kings, that is, of him that was murdered, and of him that commanded him to be killed. Oswine was tall and handsome, pleasant in speech, and courteous in behavior. He was very generous to commoners as well as to nobles, so that he was loved by all for his qualities of body and mind, and people of the first rank came from almost all places to serve him. Among the graces of virtue and modesty with which he was endowed, humility is said to have been his greatest gift: one example will be enough to prove it: Oswine gave an extremely fine horse to Bishop Aidan, so that although he usually travelled on foot, he might ride if he were either crossing a river or going on an urgent journey. Soon afterwards, a poor man met Aidan and asked him for alms. The bishop immediately dismounted, and offered the horse with all its royal trappings to the beggar; for he was very compassionate, a great friend to the poor, and a real the father of the wretched. When the king heard about this he said to the bishop, as they were going in to dinner, ‘My lord bishop, why did you give the poor man that royal horse, which was meant for your use? Have I not many other horses of less value, and of other kinds, which would have been good enough to give to the poor, rather than that horse, which I had particularly chosen for you?’ The bishop at once replied, ‘What are you saying, O king? Is that foal of a mare more dear to you than that son of God?’ With this they went in to dinner, and the bishop sat down in his place, but the king, who had come from hunting, stood warming himself at



the fire with his thegns. Then suddenly, as he was warming himself, Oswine remembered what the bishop had said to him. He unfastened his sword, gave it to one of the thegns and ran to fall down at the bishop’s feet, begging him for pardon. ‘From this time forward,’ said he, ‘I will never speak like that again, nor will I judge what, or how much money, you shall give to the sons of God.’ The bishop was very moved at this sight, and getting up, pulled him to his feet, saying that he was entirely reconciled to him, so he could sit down to dinner and lay aside all sorrow. The king, at the bishop’s command and request, began to be merry, but the bishop, on the other hand, grew so sad that he shed tears. His priest then asked him, in the language of his country which the king and his servants did not understand, why he wept, ‘I know,’ said Aidan, ‘That the king will not live long; for I never before saw so humble a king; so I conclude that he will soon be taken out of this life, because this nation is not worthy of such a ruler.’ Not long after, the bishop’s prediction was fulfilled by the king’s death. Bishop Aidan lived for only twelve days after the murder of the king whom he loved; he was taken out of this world and went to receive the eternal reward of his labours from the Lord on 31st August.

Chapter 17 When Aidan had been bishop sixteen years he was in the king’s country estate, not far from the city [Bamburgh] at the time when death separated him from his body. He had a chapel and a chamber there where he often used to go and stay and go out to preach in


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the country round about – which he likewise did in the king’s other country seats, for he had nothing of his own besides his chapel and a few fields about it. When he was sick they set up a tent for him close to the wall at the west end of the church, and so it happened that he gave up his spirit leaning against a post that was on the outside to strengthen the wall. He died in the seventeenth year of his episcopacy, on the last day of the month of August. His body was moved from there to the island of Lindisfarne, and buried in the churchyard of the monks. Some time after, when a larger church was built there and dedicated in honour of the blessed prince of the apostles, his bones were moved into it, and deposited on the right hand of the altar, with the respect due to so great a prelate. … I have written a great deal about the person and works of Aidan, in no way commending or approving what he imperfectly understood about the date when Easter should be observed. Rather, I greatly detest the same, as I have most clearly proved in the book I have written, De Temporibus; but as a truthful historian, in relating what was done by or with him, I have commended such things as are praiseworthy in his actions, preserving the memory of them for the benefit of the readers. These are the things that should be praised and remembered: his love of peace and charity; his continence and humility; his mind superior to anger and avarice and above pride and vainglory; his industry in keeping and teaching the heavenly commandments; his diligence in reading and watching; his authority as a priest in reproving the haughty and powerful, and at the same time his tenderness in comforting the afflicted, and relieving or defending the poor. In a few words, as well as I have been informed by those that knew him, he took



care to omit none of those things which he found in the apostolic or prophetic writings, but to the utmost of his power tried to perform them all. These things I greatly love and admire in the aforesaid bishop; because I do not doubt that they were pleasing to God; though I do not praise or approve his not observing Easter at the proper time, either through ignorance of the canonical time appointed, or, if he knew it, being prevailed on by the authority of his nation, not to follow the same. Yet this I approve in him, that in the celebration of his Easter, the object which he had in view in all he said, did, or preached, was the same as ours, that is, the redemption of mankind, through the passion, resurrection and ascension into heaven of the man Jesus Christ, who is mediator between God and man. [1 Timothy 2.5] And therefore he always celebrated Easter not, as some falsely imagine, on the fourteenth moon, like the Jews, whatever the day was, but on the Lord’s day, from the fourteenth to the twentieth moon; and this he did from his belief that the resurrection of our Lord happened on the day after the Sabbath, and for the hope of our resurrection, which also he, with the holy Church, believed would happen on the same day after the Sabbath, now called the Lord’s day.

Chapter 23 When Cedd the man of God, was bishop of the East Saxons he went several times to visit his own country, Northumbria, to preach there. Oethelwald, the son of King Oswald, who reigned over Deira, seeing


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that he was a holy, wise, and good man, asked him to accept some land on which to build a monastery, where the king himself might frequently go to pray and hear the Word, and where he might be buried when he died; for he believed that he would receive much benefit from the prayers of those who were to serve God in that place. The king had previously had with him a brother of the same bishop, called Caelin, a man no less devoted to God, who, being a priest, used to administer to him and his family the word and the sacraments of the faith. It was through him that the king came to know and love Bishop Cedd. Therefore, complying with the king’s wishes, Cedd chose for himself a place to build a monastery among craggy and distant mountains, which looked more like lurking-places for robbers and retreats for wild beasts than habitations for men; so that, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, ‘In the habitations where before dragons dwelt, might be grass with reeds and rushes’ [Isaiah 35.7b]. That is, that the fruit of good works should spring up, where once beasts used to dwell, or men who lived after the manner of beasts. The man of God wanted first of all to cleanse the place for the monastery from the stain of former wrong-doing, by prayer and fasting, before laying the foundations. He asked the king to give him leave to live there for all the approaching time of Lent in order to pray. Every day except Sundays, he fasted till the evening, according to custom, and then took no other food except a little bread, one hen’s egg, and a little milk mixed with water. This, he said, was the custom of those from whom he had learned the regular discipline of a rule, to consecrate to the Lord by prayer and fasting the places which they had received for building a monastery or a church. When there were ten days of Lent still remaining a messenger arrived to call him to



the king; and so that the religious work might not be interrupted on account of the king’s affairs, he asked his own brother Cynebil, who was a priest, to complete that which had been so piously begun. Cynebil readily agreed, and when the time of fasting and prayer was over, Cedd built there the monastery which is now called Lastingham, and established there the religious customs of Lindisfarne, where he had been educated. For many years Cedd had charge of the bishopric in that kingdom, and also of this monastery, over which he had placed a superior. It happened that he arrived there at a time when there was a plague, and fell sick and died. He was first buried outside the walls but in the process of time a church was built of stone in the monastery in honour of the Mother of God, and his body interred in it on the right hand of the altar. Cedd left the monastery to be governed after him by his brother Chad, who was later made bishop. It was a rare thing that the four brothers, Cedd and Cynebil, Caelin and Chad were all famous priests of the Lord, and two of them also became bishops. When the monks who were in Chad’s monastery in the kingdom of the East Saxons heard that the bishop had died in the kingdom of Northumbria, about thirty of them from that monastery went there, wanting either to live near the body of their father, or, if it should please God, to die there and be buried near him. Being lovingly received by their brothers and fellow soldiers in Christ, all of them died there of the plague, except one little boy, who was delivered from death by the prayers of Cedd. When he had lived there a long time and applied himself to the reading of the sacred Scriptures, he realized that he had not been baptized. At once he was washed in the laver of salvation. He

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was afterwards promoted to the order of priesthood, and proved very useful to many in the Church. I do not doubt that he was delivered at the point of death by the intercession of his father, Chad, to whose tomb he had come, so that he might escape eternal death, and by teaching, exhibit a ministry of life and salvation to the brethren. From Book IV, Chapter 3: At that time, the Mercians were governed by King Wulfhere, who, on the death of Jaruman, asked Theodore to supply him and his people with a bishop. Theodore would not ordain a new one for them, but asked King Oswiu to give them Chad to be their bishop. He was then living in retirement in his monastery which is at Lastingham. When Theodore realized that it was the custom of that most reverend prelate to go about the work of the Gospel to many places on foot rather than on horseback, he commanded him to ride whenever he had a long journey to undertake; and finding him very unwilling to omit his former pious labour, he himself, with his own hands, lifted him onto the horse; for he thought him a holy man, and therefore obliged him to ride wherever he needed to go. Chad having received the bishopric of the Mercians and of Lindsey, took care to administer the same with great holiness of life, according to the example of the early fathers. King Wulfhere also gave him land of fifty hides, to build a monastery, at the place called ‘At the Grove,’ or Barrow, in the kingdom of Lindsey, where traces of the monastic life instituted by him continue to this day. Chad had his episcopal see in the place called Lichfield, where he also died, and was buried, and where the see of the succeeding bishops of that kingdom still continues. He had built a habitation



for himself not far from the church, wherein he used to pray and read with seven or eight of the brethren, as often as he had any spare time from the labour and ministry of the Word. When he had most gloriously governed the Church in that kingdom two years and a half, Divine Providence so ordaining, there came round a season like that of which Ecclesiastes says, ‘That there is a time to cast stones away, and a time to gather them’ [Ecclesiastes 3.5a]. It happened that a plague was sent from heaven, which, by means of the death of the flesh, translated the stones of the church from their earthly places to the heavenly building. And when, after many of the Church of that most reverend bishop had been taken out of the flesh, his hour also drew near wherein he was to pass out of this world to the Lord, it happened one day that he was in the aforesaid dwelling, with only one brother, called Owine, for his other companions had for some reason returned to the church. Now Owine was a monk of great merit, having forsaken the world with the pure intention of obtaining the heavenly reward; worthy in all respects to have the secrets of the Lord revealed to him, and worthy to have credit given by his hearers to what he said, for he came with Queen Aethelthryth from the province of the East Angles, and was her chief officer and head of her household. As the fervour of his faith increased, he resolved to renounce the world. He did not go about it half-heartedly, but fully forsook the things of this world. He left all he had and, clad in a plain garment and carrying an axe and an adze in his hands, he came to the monastery of that most reverend father, Chad, called Lastingham. This was to show that he did not go to the monastery to live idly, as some do, but to labour, which he also confirmed in practice; for since he was less capable of meditating on

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the Holy Scriptures, he more earnestly applied himself to the labour of his hands. In short, he was received by the bishop into the aforesaid monastery and there welcomed by the brethren, and while they were engaged indoors in reading, he was outside, doing such things as were necessary. One day when he was employed outside, and his companions had gone to the church, and the bishop was alone reading or praying in the oratory of that place, suddenly, as he afterwards said, he heard the sound of people singing most sweetly and rejoicing, and appearing to descend from heaven. These voices he said he first heard coming from the south east, and afterwards it drew near him, till it came to the roof of the oratory where the bishop was, and going inside it filled the same and all about it. He listened attentively to what he heard, and after about half an hour, perceived the same song of joy to ascend from the roof of the said oratory, and to return to heaven the same way it came, with inexpressible sweetness. When he had stood some time astonished, and seriously turning over in his mind what it might be, the bishop opened the window of the oratory, and clapping with his hand, as he often used to do, he ordered Owine to come in. He went in at once and the bishop said to him, ‘Go quickly to the church, and cause the seven brothers to come here, and do you come with them.’ When they had come, he first admonished them to preserve the virtue of peace among themselves, and towards all others; and indefatigably to practise the rules of monastic discipline which they had either been taught by him, or seen him observe or had noticed in the words or actions of former fathers. Then he added, that the day of his death was at hand, ‘For,’ said he, ‘a loving Guest, who was accustomed to visit our brethren, has vouchsafed also to come to me this day, and to call



me out of this world. Return, therefore, to the church, and speak to the brothers so that they in their prayers may recommend my passage to the Lord, and be careful to provide for their own deaths, the hour whereof is uncertain, by watching, prayer, and good works.’ When he had said this and much more, they received his blessing, and went away sadly. Then he who had heard the heavenly song returned alone, and prostrating himself on the ground, said, ‘I beseech you, father, may I be permitted to ask a question?’ ‘Ask what you will,’ answered the bishop. So Owine said, ‘I entreat you to tell me what song of joy was that which I heard coming upon this oratory, and after some time returning to heaven?’ The bishop answered, ‘If you heard the singing, and know of the coming of the heavenly company, I command you, in the name of the Lord, that you do not tell the same to anyone before my death. They were angelic spirits, who came to call me to my heavenly reward, which I have always longed after, and they promised they would return in seven days time and take me away with them.’ This was accordingly fulfilled, for being seized with a languishing sickness which increased each day, on the seventh day, as had been promised him, when he had prepared for death by receiving the body and blood of the Lord, his soul being delivered from the prison of the body, the angels, as may truly be believed, attending him, he departed to the joys of heaven. It is no wonder that he joyfully beheld the day of his death, or rather the day of the Lord, which he had always earnestly expected till it came; for as well as his many merits of continence, humility, teaching, prayer, voluntary poverty, and other virtues, he was so full of the fear of God, so mindful of his last end in all his actions, that, as I was informed by one of the brothers whose name was Trumhere

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(who instructed me in the Scriptures, and who had been educated in his monastery, and under his direction), if it happened that a strong gust of wind blew when he was reading or doing any other thing, he immediately called upon God for mercy, and begged it might be extended to all mankind. If the wind grew stronger, he closed his book, and prostrating himself on the ground, prayed still more earnestly. But, if it proved to be a violent storm of wind or rain, or else if the earth and air were filled with thunder and lightning, he would retire to the church, and devote himself to prayers, repeating psalms till the weather became calm. Being asked by his followers why he did this, he answered, ‘Have not you read, “The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave forth his voice. Yea, he sent out his arrows and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them”? [Psalm 18.13–14] For the Lord moves the air, raises the winds, darts lightning, and thunders from heaven, to move the inhabitants of the earth to fear Him; to put them in mind of the future judgment; to dispel their pride, and vanquish their boldness, by bringing into their thoughts that dreadful time, when the heavens and the earth being in a flame, He will come in the clouds, with great power and majesty, to judge the quick and the dead. Wherefore,’ said he, ‘it is right for us to answer his heavenly warning with due fear and love; that as often as He lifts his hand through the trembling sky, as it were to strike, but does not let the blow fall, we may at once implore his mercy; and searching the recesses of our hearts, and cleansing the filth of our vices, we may carefully behave ourselves so as never to be struck down.’ This revelation and the account of the aforesaid brother about the death of this prelate agrees with the discourse of the most reverend



father Egbert who long led a monastic life with the same Chad, when both were youths, in Ireland, praying, observing continence, and meditating on the Holy Scriptures. When he afterwards returned into his own country, the other continued in a strange country for our Lord’s sake till the end of his life. A long time after, Hygbald, a most holy and pure man, who was an abbot in the province of Lindsey, came out of Britain to visit him, and whilst these holy men were discoursing of the life of the former fathers, and rejoicing to imitate the same, mention was made of the most reverend prelate, Chad, whereupon Egbert said, ‘I know a man in this island, still in the flesh, who, when that prelate passed out of this world, saw the soul of his brother Cedd, with a company of angels, descending from heaven, who took his soul along with them and returned thither.’ Whether he said this of himself, or some other, I do not certainly know; but the same being said by so great a man, there can be no doubt of the truth thereof. Chad died on the 2nd of March, and was first buried by St Mary’s church, but afterwards, when the church of the most holy prince of the apostles, Peter, was built, his bones were translated into it. In both places, as a testimony of his virtue, frequent miraculous cures are commonly performed. And recently a certain mad person, who had been wandering about everywhere, arrived there in the evening, unknown or unnoticed by the keepers of the place, and having rested there all the night, went out having regained his senses the next morning, to the surprise and delight of all; thus showing that a cure had been performed on him through the goodness of God. The place of his burial is a wooden coffin, made like a little house, having a hole in the wall through which those that go there for devotion usually

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put in their hand and take out some of the dust, which they put into water and give to sick cattle or men to drink, by which they are soon cured of their sickness, and restored to health. In his place, Theodore ordained Winfrid, a good and modest man, to preside as his predecessors had done over the bishoprics of the Mercians, the Middle Angles, and the people of Lindisfarne, of all of which, Wulfhere, who was still living, was king. Winfrid was one of the clergy of the bishop he had succeeded, and had for a considerable time filled the office of deacon under him.

Chapter 25 … At that time, a great and active controversy arose about the observance of Easter. Those who had come from Kent or from Gaul affirmed that the Irish kept Easter Sunday contrary to the custom of the universal Church. Among them was Ronan, a most violent defender of the true Easter; he was an Irishman but he had been instructed in ecclesiastical truth either in France or Italy. He argued with Finan, and convinced many, or at least persuaded them to make a more careful inquiry about the truth. However, he could not prevail with Finan, but, on the contrary, made him more bitter by his reproofs, and being of a hot and violent temper Finan became openly opposed to the truth. James, formerly the deacon of the venerable Archbishop Paulinus, kept the true and Catholic Easter, with all those that he could persuade to adopt the right way. Queen Eanflaed and her followers also observed it as she had seen practised in Kent, having with her a



Kentish priest called Romanus who followed the Catholic usage. So it is said to have sometimes happened that Easter was kept twice in one year and that when the king had ended the time of fasting and was keeping Easter, the queen and her followers were still fasting, and celebrating Palm Sunday. While Aidan was alive this difference about the observance of Easter had been patiently tolerated by all, since it was well-known that though he could not keep Easter contrary to the custom of those who had sent him, yet he industriously laboured to practise all works of faith, piety, and love, which is the mark of all holy men. For this reason he was deservedly loved by all; even by those who differed from him about concerning the date of Easter, and was revered not only by ordinary people, but even by the bishops Honorius of Canterbury and Felix of the East Angles. But after the death of Finan who had succeeded him, Colman was sent from Ireland to be bishop, and then a more serious controversy arose about the observance of Easter and other rules of ecclesiastical life. Naturally, this dispute began to influence the thoughts and hearts of many who feared lest having received the name of Christians, they might be running, or had run, in vain [Galatians 2.2]. This reached the ears of the rulers, Oswiu and his son Alhfrith. Oswiu had been instructed and baptized by the Irish and being very skilled in their language, thought nothing better than what they taught. But Alhfrith, had been instructed in Christianity by Wilfrid, a very learned man, who had gone to Rome to study doctrine, and spent much time at Lyons with Dalfinus, archbishop of France, from whom also he had received the ecclesiastical tonsure in the shape of a crown. Alhfrith rightly thought this man’s doctrine ought to be preferred before all the traditions of the Irish. For this reason he had given Wilfrid a monastery of forty hides, at a place called Ripon. Not

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long before he had given that place for a monastery to those that followed the ways of the Irish for a monastery; but since when they had to choose, they preferred to quit the place rather than change their opinion, he gave the place to him whose life and doctrine was worthy of it. Agilbert, bishop of the West Saxons, a friend of King Alhfrith and of Abbot Wilfrid, had at that time come to Northumbria and was staying there. At the request of Alhfrith, he ordained Wilfrid priest in his own monastery. Agilbert had with him a priest whose name was Agatho. When the controversy started, concerning Easter, the tonsure, and other ecclesiastical matters, it was agreed that a synod should be held in the monastery of Streanæshealh [Whitby] which signifies the Bay of the Lighthouse, where the Abbess Hild, a woman devoted to God, was abbess and that this controversy should be decided there. The kings, both father and son, came there, Bishop Colman with his Irish clergy, and Agilbert with the priests Agatho and Wilfrid. James and Romanus were on their side while the Abbess Hild and her followers were for the Irish, as was also the venerable Bishop Cedd, long before ordained by the Irish; he was at that council as a most careful interpreter for both parties. King Oswiu first observed, that it was fitting for those who served one God to observe the same rule of life since they all expected the same kingdom of heaven. They ought therefore not to differ in the celebration of the heavenly mysteries but rather inquire which was the truest tradition so that it might be followed by all. He then commanded his bishop, Colman, first to declare what the custom was which he observed, and whence it derived its origin. When he had spoken, the king ordered Agilbert to explain the rules he followed and their authority. Agilbert answered, ‘I ask that



my disciple, the priest Wilfrid, may speak on my behalf; we both agree about our church’s tradition and he can explain our opinions in English more clearly than it could be said by an interpreter.’ Then Wilfrid spoke [and he concluded]: ‘As for you and your companions, you certainly sin, if, having heard the decrees of the Apostolic See, and of the universal Church, and that the same is confirmed by Holy Writ, you refuse to follow them; for, though your fathers were holy, do you think that their small number, in a corner of the remotest island, is to be preferred before the universal Church of Christ throughout the world? And if that Columba of yours (and, I may say, ours also, since he was Christ’s servant), was a holy man and powerful in miracles, yet can he be preferred before the most blessed prince of the apostles, to whom our Lord said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and to thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven?” [Matthew 16.18]’ When Wilfrid had finished, the king said, ‘Is it true, Colman, that these words were spoken to Peter by our Lord?’ He answered, ‘It is true, O king.’ Then he said, ‘Can you show that any such power was given to your Columba?’ Colman answered, ‘No.’ Then the king said, ‘Do you both agree that these words were principally directed to Peter, and that the keys of heaven were given to him by our Lord?’ They both answered, ‘We do.’ Then the king concluded, ‘And so I say to you, that he is the door-keeper, whom I will not contradict, I will, as far as I know and am able, in all things obey his decrees, lest, when I come to the gates of the kingdom of heaven, there should be none to open them, if he who is proved to hold the keys is my enemy.’ The king having said this, all present, both great and small, gave their

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assent, and renouncing the more imperfect institution, resolved to conform to that which they found to be of better.

Chapter 26 When the disputation was over and the assembly broken up, Agilbert returned home. Colman, seeing that his teaching was rejected, and his principles despised, took with him such as would not comply with the Catholic Easter and the crown-shaped tonsure (for there was much controversy about that also), and went back to Iona, to consult with his people what he should do in this case. Cedd, forsaking the practices of the Irish, returned to his bishopric having accepted the Catholic method of observing Easter. This dispute happened in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 664, which was the twenty-second year of the reign of King Oswiu, and the thirtieth of the episcopacy of the Irish among the English; for Aidan was bishop seventeen years, Finan ten, and Colman three. When Colman had gone back into his own country, Christ’s servant, Tuda, was made bishop of the Northumbrians in his place. He had been instructed and ordained bishop among the southern Irish; he had the ecclesiastical tonsure in the form of a crown, according to the custom of that kingdom and observed the Catholic calculation of Easter. He was a good and devout man, but he governed his church for a very short time; he came from Ireland whilst Colman was bishop, and, both by word and example, diligently taught everyone those things that appertain to the true faith. Eata, who was abbot of the monastery of Melrose, a gentle and respected man, was appointed



abbot over the brethren that stayed in the Church of Lindisfarne when the Irish went away. It is said that Colman, upon his departure, requested and obtained this of King Oswiu, because Eata was one of Aidan’s twelve boys from the English nation, whom he received to be instructed in Christ when he was first made bishop there; for the king greatly loved Bishop Colman on account of his innate discretion. This is the same Eata, who not long after, was made bishop of the same Church of Lindisfarne. Colman carried home with him part of the bones of the most reverend father Aidan, and left part of them in the church over which he had presided, ordering them to be buried in the sanctuary.


Translations are given for selected chapters, indicated in bold. Chapter 14 is an addition from one manuscript only and has no heading and 15 has no heading because it was originally continuous with the previous text. Hence the double numbering of the later chapters here. 1. How, when Deusdedit, archbishop of Canterbury, died, Wigheard was sent to Rome to succeed him in that dignity; but when he died there, Theodore was ordained archbishop, and sent to Britain with Abbot Hadrian. 2. How Theodore visited all the churches of the English and they began to be instructed in Holy Scripture, and in catholic truth. Putta was made bishop of the Church of Rochester in the place of Damian. 3. How Chad was made bishop of the Mercians. About his life, death, and burial. (see pp.101–10) 4. How, when Bishop Colman left Britain, he built two monasteries in Ireland; the one for the Irish, the other for the English he had taken with him. 5. The death of the kings Oswy and Egbert, and about the synod held at Hertford, in which Archbishop Theodore presided.



6. How Winfrith was deposed and Seaxwulf was put into his see, and Eorconwold made bishop of the East Saxons. 7. How a heavenly light showed where the bodies of the nuns should be buried in the monastery of Barking. 8. How a little boy, dying in the same monastery, called upon a virgin who was to follow him; and how another nun at the moment of leaving her body, saw some small part of the future glory. 9. How signs were shown from heaven when the mother of that congregation departed this life. 10. How a blind woman prayed in the burial place of that monastery and her sight was restored. 11. How Sebbi, king of the same kingdom, ended his life in a monastery. 12. How Haedde succeeded Leuthere in the bishopric of the West Saxons; Cwichelm succeeded Putta in that of Rochester, and was himself succeeded by Gebmund; about the bishops of the Northumbrians. 13. How Bishop Wilfrid converted the kingdom of the South Saxons to Christ. 14.[16] How the Isle of Wight received Christian settlers, and two young princes of that island were killed immediately after baptism. 15.[17] How a synod was held in the plain of Hatfield, where Archbishop Theodore presided.

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16.[18] How John, the precentor of the apostolic See, came to Britain to teach. 17.[19] How Queen Aethelthryth always preserved her virginity, and her body suffered no corruption in the grave. 18.[20] A hymn on the aforesaid holy virgin. 19.[21] How Bishop Theodore made peace between the kings Ecgfrith and Aethelred. 20.[22] How a certain captive’s chains fell off when masses were sung for him. 21.[23] The life and death of the Abbess Hild. 22.[24]. How there was in the same monastery a brother, who was given the gift of writing poetry by heaven. 23.[25] About a vision that appeared to a certain man of God before the monastery of Coldingham was burned down. 24.[26] The death of the kings Ecgfrith and Hlothhere. 25.[27] How Cuthbert, a man of God, was made bishop; and how he lived and taught while a monk. 26.[28] How Cuthbert, when he was a hermit, obtained by his prayers a spring in dry soil, and had a crop from seed sown by himself out of season. 27.[29] How he foretold to the anchorite, Herbert, that his death was at hand. 28.[30] How his body was found incorrupt after it had been buried for eleven years; and how his successor in the bishopric departed this world not long after.



29.[31] How someone was cured of a palsy at his tomb. 30.[32] How someone was cured of a disease of the eye at his shrine.

Chapter 1 … In 644, Deusdedit, the sixth bishop of Canterbury, died on the 14th of July. Eorcenberht, king of Kent, also departed this life on the same day leaving his kingdom to his son Egbert, who reigned for nine years. The see stayed vacant for a long time, until the priest Wigheard, an Englishman who was very skilled in church affairs, was sent to Rome by King Egbert and Oswiu, king of the Northumbrians, with a request that he might be consecrated as archbishop for the Church in England. … They sent at the same time many vessels of gold and silver as presents to the Pope. Arriving in Rome, where Vitalian presided at that time over the Apostolic See, Wigheard made known to the Pope the reason for his journey: but not long after he died with almost all those who accompanied him because of a plague which happened at that time. The Pope asked advice about this matter and searched diligently for someone to send to be archbishop of the English Church. There was then in the monastery of Hiridanum, which is not far from the city of Naples in Campania, an abbot called Hadrian, by race an African, learned in Holy Scripture, experienced in monastic and ecclesiastical discipline, and skilled equally both in Greek and Latin. The Pope sent for him and commanded him to accept the

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bishopric, and go to Britain. Hadrian replied that he was unworthy of so great a dignity, but he said he could name someone else whose learning and age were more suitable for the episcopal office. He proposed to the Pope a certain monk, whose name was Andrew, who was chaplain to a neighbouring monastery of nuns; he was judged worthy by all who knew him to assume the rank of bishop but bodily infirmity prevented his being consecrated. Then again Hadrian was urged to accept the bishopric, but he asked for a delay, to see if he could find someone else more suitable to be made bishop. There was just then in Rome a monk called Theodore, well known to Hadrian, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, a man well instructed in secular and divine literature, knowing both Greek and Latin well. He was of upright character and venerable age, being sixty-six years old. Hadrian suggested him to the pope as bishop. This was accepted but upon condition that Hadrian should go with Theodore to Britain, because he had already travelled through Gaul twice on various occasions, and was therefore better acquainted with the way, and had moreover enough followers of his own. Also it was felt that, as Theodore’s fellow-labourer in teaching, he would take special care that he should not introduce anything contrary to the true faith according to the customs of the Greeks into the church where he presided. Theodore was ordained sub-deacon, and waited four months for his hair to grow so that it might be cut into the shape of a crown – for previously he had the tonsure of St Paul the apostle, after the manner of the East. He was consecrated by Pope Vitalian in 668ad on Sunday, the 26th of March: and on the 27th of May was sent with Hadrian to Britain.



They went together by sea to Marseilles, and then by land to Arles, where they gave Pope Vitalian’s letters of recommendation to John, archbishop of that city. He detained them until Ebroin, the king’s mayor of the palace, gave them leave to go where they pleased. Theodore then went to Agilbert, bishop of Paris, and was kindly received by him and entertained there for some time. Hadrian went first to Emme, bishop of Sens, and then to Faro, bishop of Meaux, and lived comfortably with them a considerable time; for the approach of winter obliged them to stay wherever they could. When King Egbert heard from messengers that the bishop they had asked for from of the bishop of Rome was in the kingdom of France, he sent his reeve, Raedfrith, to bring Theodore to him. When Raedfrith arrived there, with Ebroin’s leave he took Theodore to the port of Quentavic. Then Theodore fell ill and had to stay there but as soon as he began to recover, he sailed over to Britain. Ebroin, however, detained Hadrian, suspecting that he was taking messages from the emperor to the kings of Britain, to the prejudice of the kingdom over which at that time he had charge. When he found that Hadrian really had no such commission, he let him go and gave him leave him to follow Theodore. As soon as he arrived in Britain, Hadrian received from Theodore the monastery of St Peter the apostle, where the archbishops of Canterbury are buried. When they left Rome, the Pope had instructed Theodore to provide for Hadrian in his diocese, and give him a suitable place to live with his followers.

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Chapter 2 Theodore arrived at his church in the second year after his consecration, on Sunday, May 27th, and he was there for twenty-one years, three months, and twenty-six days. Soon after he arrived, he visited every part of the island where the English lived, and he was freely welcomed and listened to by everyone. He was everywhere accompanied and assisted by Hadrian, and they taught the right way of life, and the canonical custom of celebrating Easter. Theodore was the first archbishop whom all the English Church agreed to obey. Because both Theodore and Hadrian were very well read both in sacred and secular literature they gathered a crowd of students, and there daily flowed from them rivers of knowledge to water the hearts of their hearers. Together with the books of Holy Scripture, they also taught them the arts of metre, astronomy, and ecclesiastical computation. The proof of this is that there are still living at this day some of their scholars, who are as well versed in the Greek and Latin tongues as in their own. There had never been happier times since the English came into Britain. Their kings, who were very brave and also good Christians, were a terror to all barbarous nations, and the minds of all were intent on the joys of the heavenly kingdom of which they had recently heard. All who wanted to be instructed in sacred reading had masters at hand to teach them. From that time also all the Churches of the English began to learn sacred music, which till then had been only known in Kent. With the exception of James, the first singing-master in the churches in Northumbria was Aeddi, surnamed Stephen, who was invited from Kent by the most reverend Wilfrid, who was the first of the bishops of



the English nation to teach the Churches of the English the Catholic way of life. Theodore visited all parts, consecrated bishops in suitable places, and with their assistance corrected such things as he found faulty. Among other things he made it clear to Bishop Chad that he had not been properly consecrated and he, with great humility replied, ‘If you believe that I have not received episcopal ordination properly, I willingly resign the office, for I never thought myself worthy of it. Though I was unworthy I consented to undertake it out of obedience.’ When Theodore heard his humble answer he said that he should not resign the bishopric, and he himself completed his ordination after the Catholic manner. When Theodore reached the city of Rochester, where the see had been vacant for a long time after the death of Damian, he ordained someone very skilled in ecclesiastical matters, and given more to simplicity of life than activity in worldly affairs. His name was Putta, and he was extraordinarily skilful in the Roman style of church music, which he had learned from the disciples of the holy Pope Gregory.

Chapter 15 [17] About this time [679], Theodore heard that the faith of the Church at Constantinople was much shaken by the heresy of Eutyches. He was anxious to preserve the Churches of the English, over which he presided, from that infection, so he convened an assembly of many venerable bishops and learned men, at which he diligently inquired into their belief, and found they all unanimously agreed in the Catholic faith. This he took care to have committed to writing

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by the authority of the synod, as a memorial, and for the guidance of succeeding generations. The beginning of that book is as follows: In the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in the tenth year of the reign of our most pious lord, Ecgfrith, king of the Northumbrians, on September 17th, in the eighth indiction; and in the sixth year of the reign of Aethelred, king of the Mercians, in the seventeenth year of the reign of Ealdwulf, of the East Angles, in the seventh year of the reign of Hlothhere, king of Kent: Theodore, by the grace of God, archbishop of the island of Britain, and of the city of Canterbury, being president, and the other venerable bishops of the island of Britain sitting with him, the holy Gospels were laid before us. We conferred together at the place which, in the Saxon tongue, is called Hatfield, and expounded the true and orthodox faith, as the Lord Jesus in the flesh delivered it to his disciples, who saw Him and heard his words, and as it is delivered in the creed of the holy fathers, and by all holy and universal synods in general, and by the consent of all approved doctors of the Catholic Church. We, therefore, following them in unity and orthodoxy, and professing accord with to their divinely inspired doctrine, do believe, and according to the holy fathers, do firmly confess, properly and truly, the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost, Trinity of one substance in unity, and unity in Trinity, that is, one God subsisting in three persons of one substance, in equal honour and glory. From Book 5, Chapter 8: In the year 690, Archbishop Theodore, of blessed memory, departed this life, old and full of years, for he was eighty-eight years of age. He used long



before to tell his friends that it had been revealed to him in a dream that he should live for this number of years. He held the bishopric twenty-two years, and was buried in St Peter’s church, where all the bodies of the bishops of Canterbury are buried. Of him, as well as of his companions of the same degree, it may rightly and truly be said, that ‘their bodies are buried in peace, and their names live from generation to generation’ [Ecclesiasticus 44.14]. For to sum up in few words, the English Churches made more progress while he was archbishop than they had done before. His person, life, age, and death, are plainly described to all who visit here, by the epitaph on his tomb, consisting of thirty-four heroic verses. … Berhtwold succeeded Theodore as archbishop, being abbot of the monastery of Reculver, which lies on the north side of the mouth of the river Yant. He was a man deeply learned in the Scriptures, and well instructed in ecclesiastical and monastic discipline, though not to be compared to his predecessor. He was chosen bishop in 692ad, on July 1st when Wihtred and Swaefheard were kings in Kent. He was consecrated the next year, on Sunday 29 June by Godwin, metropolitan bishop of Gaul, and was enthroned on Sunday, August 31st. Among the many bishops he consecrated was Tobias, as bishop of Rochester in the place of Gefmund, who had died. Tobias was very learned and was proficient in Latin, Greek, and English.

Chapter 8 [At Barking in the monastery of Aethelburh, sister of Eorcenwold bishop of London] there was a boy not above three years old called Aesica, who, because he was so young, was brought up among the virgins

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dedicated to God, and there learned his lessons. This child fell ill of the plague and when he was at the point of death he called three times upon one of the virgins consecrated to God, directing his words to her by her own name, as if she had been present, ‘Edith! Edith! Edith!’ And thus ending his temporal life he entered into that which is eternal. The virgin whom he called was immediately seized where she was with the same illness and departed this life the same day on which the child had called her and followed him into the heavenly country. Likewise, one of those same servants of God, being ill of the same disease, and reduced to extremity, began suddenly about midnight to cry out to those who attended her, asking them to put out the candle that was lighted there. When she had often repeated this and yet no one did it, at last she said, ‘I know you think I speak this in a raving fit, but let me tell you it is not so; for I see this house filled with so much light that your candle there seems to me to be dark.’ And when still no one paid any attention to what she said, or gave any answer, she added, ‘Let that candle burn as long as you will; but take note that it is not my light, for my light will come to me at the dawn of the day.’ Then she began to tell how a certain man of God who had died that same year had appeared to her, telling her that at the break of day she would depart to the heavenly light. The truth of this vision was confirmed when the virgin died as soon as the day appeared.

Chapter 13 When Wilfrid was expelled from his bishopric he spent a long time visiting several places. He went to Rome and afterwards returned to



Britain. He could not be received into his own country or diocese, because of the enmity of King Ecgfrith, but he could not be kept from preaching the Gospel. He arrived in the kingdom of the South Saxons, which extends from Kent on the west and south, as far as the West Saxons, containing seven thousand hides of land. At that time the people were still pagans, so he preached the word of faith to them, and administered the baptism of salvation. Aethelwealh was the king of that nation and he had recently been baptized in the kingdom of the Mercians, by the persuasion of King Wulfhere, who was present and also stood as his godfather. As such, he and Aethelwealh governed two kingdoms, that is, the Isle of Wight, and the province of Meonware in the land of the West Saxons. Bishop Wilfrid, therefore, with the king’s consent, or rather to his great satisfaction, baptized the principal generals and soldiers of that country; and the priests, Eappa, and Padda, and Burghelm, and Edi, and either then, or afterwards, baptized the rest of the people. The Queen, whose name was Eafe had been christened in her own country, the kingdom of the Hwicce. She was the daughter of Eanfrith, the brother of Eanhere, who were both Christians, as were their people; but with that exception, all the province of the South Saxons were strangers to the name and faith of God. There was among them an Irish monk called Dicuill, who had a very small monastery at the place called Bosham, encompassed with the sea and woods, in which five or six brothers served the Lord in poverty and humility; but none of the natives cared either to follow their way of life, or hear their preaching. By his ministry to them, Bishop Wilfrid not only delivered them from the misery of perpetual damnation, but also from the terrible calamity of temporal death, for no rain had fallen in that kingdom

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for three years before his arrival, so that there was a dreadful famine, which cruelly destroyed the people. In short, it is reported that often forty or fifty men, being wasted with hunger, would go together to some precipice, or to the sea-shore, and there joining hands, would leap into the sea to perish by the fall, or be swallowed up by the waves. But on the very day on which the nation received the baptism of faith, there fell a soft but plentiful rain; the earth revived again, and the greenness being restored to the fields, the season was pleasant and fruitful. Thus the former superstition being rejected, and idolatry exploded, ‘their hearts and flesh rejoiced in the living God’ [Psalm 83.3], and became convinced that He who is the true God had, through his heavenly grace, enriched them with wealth, both temporal and spiritual. When the bishop first reached that kingdom and found so great misery from famine, he taught them to get their food by fishing; for their sea and rivers abounded in fish, but the people had no skill to catch them, except eels alone. The bishop’s men, having gathered eel nets everywhere, cast them into the sea, and by the blessing of God took three hundred fish of several sorts, which they divided into three parts; they gave a hundred to the poor, a hundred to those from whom they had borrowed the nets, and kept a hundred for their own use. By this benefit the bishop gained the affection of all, and they began more readily to respond to his preaching in hope for heavenly rewards, seeing that by his help they had received those which are temporal. At this time, King Aethelwealh gave the most reverend prelate, Wilfrid, eighty seven hides of land to maintain his company who were living in banishment, in a place called Selsey, that is, the Island of the Seal. That place is surrounded by the sea on all sides, except the west, where there is an entrance about the cast of a sling’s throw



in width. This sort of place is by the Latins called a ‘peninsula’, by the Greeks, a ‘chersonesos’. When Bishop Wilfrid was given this place, he founded a monastery there, which his successors possess to this day, and established a rule of life, chiefly for the brethren he had brought with him; for he both in word and action he performed the duties of a bishop in those parts during the space of five years, until the death of King Ecgfrith. Because King Aethelwealh gave him with that place and all the goods that were in it, with lands and men, he instructed them in the faith of Christ, and baptized them all. Among them were two hundred and fifty men and women slaves, all of whom he, by baptism, not only rescued from the servitude of the Devil, but gave them their bodily liberty also, and exempted them from the yoke of human slavery.

Chapter 14 [16] After Caedwalla had gained possession of the kingdom of the Gewisse, he also took the Isle of Wight, which till then had been entirely given over to idolatry. He endeavoured to destroy all the inhabitants thereof by cruel slaughter, and to place in their stead people from his own kingdom. Though he was not yet, it is said, regenerated in Christ, he had vowed to give the fourth part of the land, and of the booty, to the Lord, if he took the island. He did this by giving land to the Lord for the use of Bishop Wilfrid, who by chance happened at the time to have come thither out of his own nation. The measure of that island, according to the computation of the English, is of twelve hundred hides, and so the bishop was given land of three hundred hides. The

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part which he received, he committed to one of his clerks called Beornwine, who was his sister’s son, assigning him a priest, whose name was Hiddila, to administer the Word and baptism of salvation to all that would be saved. Here I think I ought not to omit the fact that among the first fruits of those in that island who by believing secured their salvation, were two young princes, brothers to Arwald, king of the island, who were specially crowned by the grace of God. When the enemy approached, they escaped from the island, and went over to the neighbouring kingdom of the Jutes. There they were taken to a place called Stoneham, where they thought they would be concealed from the victorious king, but they were betrayed and ordered to be killed. This was made known to a certain abbot and priest, whose name was Cyneberht, who had a monastery not far from thence, at a place called Redbridge, that is, the Ford of Reeds. He came to the king, who was living privately in those parts until he was cured of the wounds which he had received while he was fighting in the Isle of Wight. The bishop asked him that, if the boys must inevitably be killed, he might be allowed first to instruct them in the mysteries of the faith. The king consented, and the bishop, having taught them the word of truth, cleansed their souls by baptism to ensure their entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Then, the executioner being at hand, they joyfully underwent the temporal death, through which they did not doubt they were to pass to the life of the soul, which is everlasting. Thus, after all the kingdoms of the island of Britain had embraced the faith of Christ, the Isle of Wight also received the same; yet being under the affliction of foreign subjection, no man there received the ministry, or the rank of a bishop, before Daniel, who is now bishop of



the West Saxons. The island is situated opposite the division between the South Saxons and the Gewissae, being separated from it by a sea, three miles across, which is called Solent. In this narrow sea, the two tides of the ocean, which flow around Britain from the immense northern ocean, daily meet and oppose one another beyond the mouth of the river Hamble, which runs into that narrow sea, from the lands of the Jutes, which belong to the kingdom of the Gewissae; after meeting and struggling together the two seas flow back into the ocean from whence they come.

Chapter 17 [19] King Ecgfrith married Aethelthryth, the daughter of Anna, king of the East Angles, a very religious man, and in all respects renowned for his thoughts and actions. She had previously been given in marriage to someone else, that is to Tondberht, an ealdorman of the Southern Gyrwe; but he died soon after he had received her, and she was then given to King Ecgfrith. She lived with him twelve years but she preserved the glory of perfect virginity, as I was informed by Bishop Wilfrid of blessed memory, of whom I inquired, because some questioned the truth of this. He told me that he was a certain witness of her virginity, since Ecgfrith promised to give him many lands and much money if he could persuade the queen to consummate the marriage, for he knew the queen loved no-one so much as Wilfrid. There is no doubt that this could happen in one instance in our time, since reliable histories tell us it happened several times in former ages, through the assistance of the same Lord who has ‘promised

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to continue with us to the end of the world’ [Matthew 28.20]. The miracle that her flesh, after being buried, could not suffer corruption, is a sign that she had not been defiled by intercourse with a man. She had often asked the king to permit her to lay aside all worldy responsibilities, and to serve only the true King, Christ, in a monastery. Having at last with difficulty prevailed, she went as a nun to the monastery of the Abbess Aebba, who was aunt to King Ecgfrith, which is in the city of Coldingham, having received the veil from the hands of Bishop Wilfrid. A year later having built a monastery in the district called Ely she was made abbess, and there she began, by her works and by her example of a heavenly life, to be the virgin mother of very many virgins dedicated to God. It is said of her that from the time she entered the monastery she never wore any linen but only woollen garments. She would rarely wash in a hot bath, except just before any of the great festivals, such as Easter, Pentecost, and the Epiphany, and then she did it last of all, after having, with the assistance of those about her, first washed the other servants of God there present. Besides this, she seldom ate more than once a day, excepting on the great solemnities, or for some other urgent occasion, or unless some major illness made it necessary. After matins she stayed in the church at prayer till it was day. Some say that by the spirit of prophecy she publicly not only foretold the plague of which she was to die, but also how many would be snatched away out of her monastery. She was taken to our Lord, in the midst of her community seven years after she had been made abbess; and, as she had ordered, she was buried among them, in such a manner as she had died, in a wooden coffin. She was succeeded in the office of abbess by her sister Seaxburh, who had been wife to Eorcenberht, king of Kent. When her sister had



been buried sixteen years, she thought it right to take up her bones, and, putting them into a new coffin, transfer them into the church. Accordingly she ordered some of the brothers to provide stone to make a coffin. They went on board ship, because the country of Ely is on every side encompassed with the sea or marshes, and has no large stones, and came to a small abandoned city, not far from there, which, in the language of the English, is called Grantacæstir [Cambridge]. Soon near the city walls they found a white marble coffin, most beautifully made, and neatly covered with a lid of the same sort of stone. Concluding therefore that God had prospered their journey, they returned thanks to Him, and carried it to the monastery. When her grave was opened and her body was brought to sight, the flesh of the holy virgin and bride of Christ was found as free from corruption as if she had died and been buried on that very day, as Bishop Wilfrid and many others that know it can testify. The physician, Cynefrith, was present at her death, and when she was taken out of the grave, he spoke out of certain knowledge when he said that in her sickness she had had a very great swelling under her jaw: ‘And I was ordered,’ said he, ‘to lay open that swelling, to let out the noxious matter in it, which I did, and she seemed to be a little more comfortable for two days, so that many thought she might recover from her illness; but the third day the former pains returned, and she was soon snatched out of the world, and exchanged all pain and death for everlasting life and health. And then so many years after, her bones were to be taken out of the grave, and a pavilion was spread over it and all the congregation of brothers on the one side and sisters on the other, stood around singing. Then the abbess, with a few sisters went in to take up the

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bones and wash them, and suddenly we heard the abbess within cry out loudly, “Glory to the name of the Lord!” Not long after, they called me in, opening the door of the pavilion, and there I found the body of the holy virgin taken out of the grave and laid on a bed, as if she had been asleep; then, taking off the veil from the face, they also showed the incision which I had made, healed up; so that, to my great astonishment, instead of the open gaping wound with which she had been buried, there then appeared only an extraordinarily slender scar. Besides this, all the linen cloths in which the body had been buried, appeared entire and as fresh as if they had been that very day wrapped about her chaste limbs.’ It is said that when she was suffering greatly from the swelling and pain in her jaw, she was very pleased with that sort of illness, and used to say, ‘I know that I deserve to bear the weight of my sickness on my neck, for I remember, when I was very young, I bore there the needless weight of jewels; and therefore I believe the Divine goodness has allowed me to endure this pain in my neck, to absolve me from the guilt of my needless frivolity, having now, instead of gold and precious stones, a red swelling and burning on my neck.’ It happened that by the touch of that linen, devils were expelled from the bodies of the possessed, and other illnesses were sometimes cured. The coffin she was first buried in is reported to have cured some of eye sickness, who, by praying with their heads touching that coffin, were delivered from pain or dimness in their eyes. They washed the virgin’s body, and having clothed it in new garments, brought it into the church, and laid it in the coffin that had been brought, where it is held in great veneration to this day. Amazingly, the coffin was found to fit the virgin’s body as if it had been made



especially for her, and the place for the head had been so shaped that was exactly the right size for her. Ely is in the province of the East Angles, a country of about six hundred hides like an island, enclosed either with marshes or water; it takes its name from the abundance of eels caught in those waters. The servant of Christ, Aethelthryth, had chosen to have a monastery there because she came from the race of the East Angles.

Chapter 21 [23] … In 680, on the 17th of November, Hild, the most devout servant of Christ, abbess of the monastery that is called Whitby, after having performed many heavenly works on earth passed on to receive the rewards of life in heaven at the age of sixty-six. She spent her first thirty-three years living very nobly in the secular way of life; and more nobly still dedicated the remaining half of her life to the Lord as a nun. She was nobly born, the daughter of Hereric, nephew of King Edwin, and it was with that king that she received the faith and the sacraments of Christ at the preaching of Paulinus, of blessed memory, the first bishop of the Northumbrians. She preserved the same faith undefiled until she was found worthy to see her Lord in heaven. When she decided to leave her secular way of life and to serve God alone, she went to the kingdom of the East Angles, for she was related to their king. She meant to go on from there to Gaul and so forsake her native land and all that she had, and live as a stranger for the Lord’s sake in the monastery of Chelles, in order to be more certain of attaining to the eternal kingdom in heaven. Her sister, Hereswith, the

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mother of Ealdwulf, king of the East Angles, at that time lived there under the monastic rule, waiting for her eternal reward. Inspired by her example, Hild stayed for a whole year in East Anglia, preparing to go abroad; but when Bishop Aidan came home, he gave her one hide of land on the north side of the river Wear where for a year she led a monastic life with a few companions. After this she was made abbess of the monastery called Heruteu [Hartlepool], which had recently been founded by the devout servant of Christ, Heiu, who is said to have been the first woman in Northumbria to take up the habit and life of a nun, being consecrated by Bishop Aidan. But soon after she founded that monastery, she went to the city of Calcaria [Tadcaster] … and settled there. Hild, the servant of Christ, was then put in charge of the monastery at Hartlepool and at once began to establish a way of life which she had been taught by many learned men; for Bishop Aidan and other religious men who knew her and loved her heartily often visited her and diligently instructed her, because of her innate wisdom and devotion to the service of God. When she had governed this monastery for some years, wholly intent upon establishing a monastic life-style there, it happened that she undertook either to build a monastery or to re-organize one most carefully. … She put this monastery [Whitby] under the same monastic discipline as she had done the former; and taught there the strict observance of justice, piety, chastity, and other virtues, and particularly the observance of peace and charity. After the example of the primitive Church, no-one was rich, and none poor, they had all things in common and no-one had any property. [Acts 11.44] Her prudence was so great, that not only ordinary people but even kings and princes asked and received her advice when they needed



it. She made sure those who were under her direction would devote so much time to reading the Bible and performing good works that many of them were found fit for ordination, that is, to serve at the altar. In fact later on we saw five bishops chosen out of that monastery, and all of them men of singular merit and sanctity. Their names were Bosa, Aetla, Oftfor, John, and Wilfrid. The first of them was consecrated bishop at York; the second was appointed bishop of Dorchester. Another two were consecrated, John bishop of Hexham, and Wilfrid bishop of York. Oftfor applied himself to the reading and observance of the Scriptures in both the monasteries of Hild, and at length, wanting to attain greater perfection, went into Kent, to live with Archbishop Theodore, of blessed memory. When he had spent more time there in sacred studies, he decided to go to Rome, to do which in those days was reckoned to be an act of great merit. When he returned to Britain he made his way to the kingdom of the Hwicce where King Osric ruled, and stayed there a long time, preaching the word of faith, and giving an example of good life to all that saw and heard him. At that time Bosel, the bishop of that kingdom, suffered from such weakness of body that he could not perform his episcopal duties. Because of this, Oftfor was by universal consent chosen to replace him as bishop and by order of King Aethelred he was consecrated by Bishop Wilfrid, of blessed memory, who was then bishop of the Middle Angles, because Archbishop Theodore had died, and no other bishop had been ordained in his place. Before Bosel took over, a man of God Tatfrid, a most learned and industrious man, and of excellent ability from the same abbess’s monastery, had been chosen bishop but had been snatched away by an untimely death, before he could be consecrated.

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All that knew Hild, the servant of Christ, called her mother, for her outstanding piety and grace; she was an example of good life not only to those that lived in her monastery, but gave the chance of repentance and salvation to many who lived at a distance, who heard of the happy tale of her industry and virtue. In this way the dream which her mother, Bregusuit, had during her infancy, was fulfilled. At that time her husband, Hereric, was living in exile under Ceretic, king of the Britons, where he was eventually poisoned. She dreamt that she was seeking for him most carefully and could find no sign of him anywhere; but while she was searching as well as possible, she found a most precious jewel under her garment; and while she was looking at it closely, it blazed with a light which spread throughout all Britain. The truth of her dream was fulfilled in her daughter that we speak of, for her life was a bright light not only to herself, but to all who desired to live well. When Hild had governed this monastery many years, it pleased Him who has made such merciful provision for our salvation, to give her holy soul the trial of a long sickness, to the end that, according to the apostle’s example, her strength might be made perfect in weakness. [2 Corinthians 9.9] She fell into a fever and became burning hot; she suffered from this continually for six years; during which time she never failed either to return thanks to her Maker, and both publicly and privately to instruct the flock committed to her charge. Taught by her own experience, she taught everyone to serve God dutifully in perfect health, and always to return thanks to him in adversity or bodily infirmity. In the seventh year of her sickness, she began to suffer internal pain and she approached her last day. About cock-crow, having received Holy Communion to support her



on her way, she called together the servants of Christ that were in the same monastery. She charged them to preserve the peace which the gospel teaches among themselves, and with all others; and as she was speaking, she joyfully saw death approaching, or if I may use the words of the Lord, she ‘passed from death to life’. [John 5.24] It is also said that her death was made known the same night to one of the nuns who loved her very dearly in the same monastery where she died. This nun saw her soul ascend to heaven in the company of angels. As soon as it happened she recounted it to the servants of Christ who were with her; and awakened them to pray for Hild’s soul, even before the rest of the congregation had heard of her death, the truth of which was only known to the whole monastery in the morning. This same nun was at that time with some other servants of Christ in the remotest part of the monastery where the women newly converted spent their probation while they were being instructed in monastic ways and taken into the fellowship of the community.

Chapter 22 [24] There was in Hild’s monastery a certain brother who was especially marked out by the grace of God. He used to make godly and religious songs, so that whatever was explained to him by interpreters out of Scripture, he soon put into delightful poetry, full of compunction and sweetness, in English, which was his native language. By his songs the minds of many were often stirred to despise the world and desire the life of heaven. Other Englishmen after him have attempted to compose religious poems but none could compare with him, for

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he did not learn the art of poetry from men, but from God. For that reason he could never compose any trivial or foolish poems, but only those which related to religion and were fitting for his devout manner of speech. He had lived as a layman till he was old and had never learned anything about versifying. This was why sometimes, if he was at a feast, and it was agreed for the sake of entertainment that all present should sing in turn, when he saw the harp coming towards him he would get up from table and go home. Once when he had done this, he had gone out of the house where the feast was to the cattle byre since it was his turn to take care of the animals that night. He lay down to rest and fell asleep. Someone appeared to him in his sleep, and greeted him by his name, saying, ‘Caedmon, sing me something.’ He answered, ‘I can’t sing; that was why I left the feast, and came here, because I could not sing.’ The other who spoke to him said again, ‘All the same, you must sing.’ ‘What shall I sing?’ he asked. ‘Sing about the beginning of created beings,’ said the other. Then he began to sing verses which he had never heard to the praise of God the creator and this was the general meaning of it: ‘Let us now to praise the Maker of the heavenly kingdom, the power of the Creator and his counsel, the deeds of the Father of glory, how he, being the eternal God, was the author of all wonders. He, the almighty preserver of the human race, first created the heavens like the roof of a house for the sons of men, and next the earth.’ This is the sense, but not the words in the order in which he sang them in his sleep; for verses, however well composed, cannot be literally translated out of one language into another, without losing much of their beauty and dignity. Awaking from his sleep, he



remembered all that he had sung in his dream, and soon added much more to the same effect in verse worthy of God. In the morning he went to the reeve, his master, and told him about the gift he had received. The reeve took him to Abbess Hild. He was then told to describe his dream, and repeat the verses, in the presence of many learned men, so that they might all give their judgment about it, and decide where his poetry came from. They all concluded that he had been given heavenly grace by the Lord. They then explained to him a passage of Scripture, either historical or doctrinal, telling him to put the words into verse, if he could. He agreed to this and went away. He came back next morning and repeated the passage to them which he had turned into excellent verse. Then the abbess Hild, recognizing the grace of God in Caedmon, told him to leave his secular way of life, and become a monk. When he had done this she and the rest of the brethren in her monastery received him into the community, and ordered that he should be taught the whole course of sacred history. Thus Caedmon turned over in his mind all he heard and like a clean animal chewing the cud, he converted the same into most harmonious verse. Then he repeated the same so sweetly that his masters became his hearers. He sang about the creation of the world, the origin of man, and all the history of Genesis, and made verses on the departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt, and their entering into the Promised Land, with many other stories from Scripture. He also sang about the incarnation, passion and resurrection of the Lord, and his ascension into heaven; the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the preaching of the apostles; also the terror of future judgment, the horror of the pains of hell, and the delights of heaven. Besides these he composed many

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more songs about the mercy and the judgment of God. By all of this he wanted to turn his hearers away from the love of vice, and to urge in them the love of, and application to, good living; for he was a very religious man, humbly submissive to monastic discipline, but full of zeal against those who behaved themselves otherwise; for which reason his life had a beautiful death. When the time of his departure drew near, for fourteen days he suffered a bodily weakness that seemed so moderate that he could talk and walk the whole time. Nearby there was the house to which those who were sick and likely soon to die were carried. In the evening as the night came on in which he was to depart this life, he asked the person that attended him to make ready a place there for him to take his rest. The attendant wondered why he wanted this since there was as yet no sign of his dying soon, but did what he had asked. So Caedmon went there, and talked pleasantly in a cheerful manner with the others in the house, and when it was past midnight, he asked them whether they had the Eucharist there. They answered, ‘Why do you need the Eucharist? You are not likely to die, since you are talking as merrily with us as if you were in perfect health.’ ‘All the same,’ said he, ‘bring me the Eucharist.’ Having received the same into his hand, he asked whether they were all in charity with him, and without any enmity or rancour. They answered that they were all in perfect charity with him and free from anger; and in their turn they asked him whether he was of the same mind towards them. He answered, ‘I am in charity, my children, with all the servants of God.’ Then he strengthened himself by receiving the heavenly bread and was ready for entrance into another life. He then asked them how near it was to the time



when the brothers were to be awakened to sing the night praises of our Lord. They answered, ‘It is not far off.’ Then he said, ‘Well, let us wait until that hour;’ and signing himself with the sign of the cross he laid his head on the pillow, and falling into a slumber, ended his life in silence. Thus it came to pass, that as he had served God with a simple and pure mind, and undisturbed devotion, so he now departed to his presence, leaving the world by a quiet death. That tongue, which had composed so many holy words in praise of the Creator, uttered its last words in his praise while he was in the act of signing himself with the cross, and recommending himself into his Lord’s hands. What has been here said seems to show that he had foreknowledge of his death.

Chapter 25 [27] In the year that King Ecgfrith died, he had appointed as bishop of the Church of Lindisfarne the holy and venerable Cuthbert, who had for many years led a solitary life, in great purity of body and mind, on a very small island called Farne in the ocean almost nine miles away from that same church. From childhood he had always burned with desire for a way of life under a rule and he took the habit and name of a monk when he became a young man. He first entered the monastery of Melrose, which is on the bank of the river Tweed, which was then governed by Abbot Eata, the humblest and simplest of men, who afterwards became bishop of the Church of Hexham or rather Lindisfarne. Then Boisil, a priest of great virtue and having

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the spirit of prophesy, was made prior of that monastery. Cuthbert humbly submitted himself to this man’s direction, and received from him both knowledge of the Scriptures, and an example of good works. After Boisil had departed to the Lord, Cuthbert was made prior of that monastery, where he taught many about monastic life, both with authority as a teacher, and also by the example of his own way of life. He did not limit teaching and the example of a good life to his monastery alone, but tried to convert the people round about far and near from a life of foolish customs to the love of heavenly joys. Many of them had profaned the faith which they had received by wicked actions and some also in the time of plague neglected the sacraments of faith which they had received, and had recourse to the false remedies of idolatry, as if by enchantments, spells, or other secrets of devilish art they could stop a plague sent from God. In order to correct both these kinds of error, Cuthbert often went out of the monastery, sometimes on horseback, but more often on foot, and visited the nearby villages where he preached the way of truth. Now it was then the custom of the English people that when a clerk or priest visited a village, at his call they all gathered together at his summons. They willingly heard what was said, and were moreover willing to put into practice things that they could hear and understand. Cuthbert was so good a speaker and so keen to persuade them with love, and such a brightness appeared in his angelic face that no-one present dared to conceal from him the most hidden secrets of the heart. They all openly confessed what they had done because they thought their guilt could not be concealed from him. He wiped off the guilt of what they had confessed with ‘fruits worthy of the repentance’ [Luke 3.8].



He especially went to preach in distant villages that were situated high up amid grim and craggy mountains, which were awesome to behold, and where others feared to go to people of such poverty and barbarity. But Cuthbert devoted himself entirely to that good work, and gave himself up to it with such industry that when he went out of his monastery he would often be away for a week, sometimes two or three, and sometimes a whole month before he returned home, staying among the mountains to call those rustic people to heavenly things by his preaching and example. When this venerable servant of the Lord had lived for many years in the monastery of Melrose, and had displayed great spiritual power, the good Eata sent him as prior to the island of Lindisfarne to teach the monks to keep the monastic rule and show the way by his own life-style, Eata was then abbot of that place also since in this monastery from the earliest days the bishop used to live with the clergy and the abbot with the monks although they belonged to the household of the bishop. This was because Aidan, who was the first bishop there, had been a monk when he arrived and had established monastic life in that place. This is also what the blessed father Augustine is known to have done earlier in Kent when Pope Gregory wrote to him: ‘But since you, my brother, have been instructed in monastic rules, you must not live apart from your clergy in the English Church, which has been lately through the help of God been converted to the faith. You must, therefore, establish that way of life, which was practiced by our fathers in the early Church, where none called anything that he possessed his own; but all things were held in common.’ [cf. Acts 4.44]

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Chapter 26 [28] Then as Cuthbert grew in merit and intense devotion, he went on to the adoption of the silence and secrecy of a hermit’s life of contemplation. When he was about to go to Farne island, he said to the brothers, ‘If by the will of God I am able to live in that place by the labour of my hands, I will gladly stay there but if not I will quickly return to you, God willing.’ The place was quite destitute of water, corn, and trees; and being infested by evil spirits, very ill suited for human habitation. However, it became in all respects habitable at the desire of the man of God for upon his arrival the wicked spirits withdrew. After expelling those enemies who had been there, with the help of the brothers he built himself a small dwelling with a wall about it containing the necessary buildings, that is, a living space and an oratory. He ordered the brothers to dig a pit in the floor of the dwelling, although the ground was hard and stony, and there appeared to be no hope of any spring. Having done this, relying on his faith, the next day at the prayer of the servant of God it was found to be full of water and to this day it provides plenty from its heavenly bounty to all that go to it. He also asked that some farming tools might be brought him, and some wheat; he sowed this at the proper season, but not a stalk, nor so much as a leaf, sprouted from it by the next summer. When the brothers came to him according to custom, he asked them to bring him some barley, to see if that grain would grow, either because of the nature of the soil, or by the will of God. He sowed it in the field just as it was brought to him without any hope that it would grow; and since it was after the proper time for sowing;



but a plentiful crop immediately came up, and gave the man of God the means to support himself by his own hard work. He served God there in solitude for many years. So high was the mound that surrounded his dwelling that he could see nothing from it but the heavens to which he so ardently aspired. Now it happened that a great synod was assembled in the presence of King Ecgfrith near the river Aln, at a place called Twyford, which signifies ‘the two fords,’ at which Archbishop Theodore of blessed memory presided. There, by the unanimous consent of all, Cuthbert was chosen bishop of the Church of Lindisfarne. They could not, however, persuade him to leave his hermitage, though many messengers and letters were sent to him. Finally King Ecgfrith himself, with the most holy Bishop Trumwine, and other religious and powerful men went over to the island, and many of the brothers from Lindisfarne came together for the same purpose. They all knelt, and urged him by the Lord with tears and entreaties, till they drew him, also in tears, from his retreat, and forced him to go to the synod. When he arrived there, although he firmly opposed this, he was overcome by the unanimous resolution of all present, and agreed to take upon himself the episcopal dignity; being chiefly prevailed upon by the report that Boisil, the servant of God, when he had foretold all things that were to happen to Cuthbert, had also predicted that he should be a bishop. However, the consecration was not carried out immediately but after the winter that was just beginning. It was performed at Easter in the city of York, and in the presence of King Ecgfrith; seven bishops met for the occasion, among whom was Theodore of blessed memory, who was archbishop. Cuthbert was at first elected bishop of the Church of Hexham, in the place of Tunberht, who had been

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deposed from episcopal rank; but because he preferred to be placed over the Church of Lindisfarne, in which he had lived, it was thought suitable that Eata should return to the see of the Church of Hexham, to which he had been first appointed, and that Cuthbert should take upon himself the government of the Church of Lindisfarne. As bishop, Cuthbert followed the example of the apostles and became an ornament to the episcopal dignity, by his virtuous actions, He both protected the people committed to his charge by constant prayer, and stirred them up to a heavenly life-style by wholesome admonitions and — which is the greatest help in teachers — he first showed in his behaviour that which he taught others to perform. Above all, he was aflame with the fire of divine love, modest in the virtue of patience, most diligently intent on devout prayer, and kind to all that came to him for comfort. He thought it was the equivalent to praying to grant the weaker brethren the help of his exhortations, well knowing that he who said ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God’ [Matthew 22.37, 39], said likewise, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ He was also remarkable for penitential abstinence, and always intent upon heavenly things, through the grace of humility: lastly, when he offered up to God the sacrifice of the saving victim [the Mass], he commended his prayer to God, not with a loud voice, but with tears drawn from the bottom of his heart.

Chapter 27 [29] Having spent two years in his bishopric, he returned to his island hermitage, being warned by God that the day of his death, or rather



of his life which alone can be called life, was drawing near. At that time he told some people this with his usual simplicity though in terms which were somewhat obscure, but which were nevertheless later plainly understood. To others he explained all of this clearly. … The most reverend father died in the island of Farne, earnestly begging the brothers that he might be buried in that same place where he had for so long fought for God. However, at last he gave in to their entreaties, and agreed that they should carry his body back to Lindisfarne; and he was buried in that church. After this, the venerable Bishop Wilfrid held the episcopal see of that Church for one year, till someone was chosen to be ordained in place of Cuthbert. Afterwards Eadberht was consecrated, a man renowned for his knowledge of Scripture and also for keeping the Divine law and most of all for his almsgiving, since, according to the law, he every year gave to the poor the tenth part not only of four­footed beasts but also of corn and fruit, and also of his garments too.


Translations are given for selected chapters, indicated in bold. 1. How Ethelwald, successor to Cuthbert, lived as a hermit; he calmed a tempest when some monks were in danger at sea. 2. How Bishop John cured a dumb man by blessing him. 3. How the same bishop, John, by his prayers, healed a sick maiden. 4. How the same bishop healed an lord’s wife who was sick, with holy water. 5. How the same bishop recovered one of the lord’s servants from death. 6. How the same bishop, by his prayers and blessing, delivered from death one of his clerks, who had bruised himself by a fall. 7. How Caedwalla, king of the West Saxons, went to Rome to be baptized; and how his successor Ine also devoutly visited the same churches of the holy apostles. 8. How when Archbishop Theodore died, Berhtwold succeeded him as archbishop; among many others whom he ordained, he made Tobias, a most learned man, bishop of the Church of Rochester. (see pp.121–2) 9. How Egbert, a holy man, would have gone into Germany to



preach, but could not; and how Wihtberht went, but meeting with no success, returned to Ireland, from whence he came. 10. How Willibrord preached in Frisia and converted many to Christ; and how his two companions, the Hewalds, suffered martyrdom. 11. How two were ordained bishops: the venerable Swithberht for Britain, and Willibrord for Frisland. 12. How a certain man of Northumbria rose from the dead, and related the things which he had seen, some of which excited terror and others delight. 13. How another man before his death saw a book containing all his sins which was showed him by the devils. 14. How another man at the point of death, saw the place of punishment appointed for him in hell. 15. How most of the churches of the Irish, at the instance of Adamnan, conformed to the Catholic Easter; he also wrote a book about the holy places. 16. The account given in that book of the place of the Lord’s nativity, passion, and resurrection. 17. About the place of the Lord’s ascension, and the tombs of the patriarchs. 18. How the South Saxons received Eadberht and Ealla, and the West Saxons, Daniel and Aldhelm, as their bishops. About the writings of the same Aldhelm. 19. How Cenred, king of the Mercians, and Offa, king of the East

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Saxons, ended their days at Rome, in the monastic habit. About the life and death of Bishop Wilfrid. 20. How Albinus succeeded Abbot Hadrian, and Acca succeeded bishop Wilfrid. 21. How Abbot Ceolfrith sent the King of the Picts architects to build a church, and with them an epistle concerning the Catholic Easter and the tonsure. 22. How the monks of Iona and the monasteries subject to them, begin to celebrate the canonical Easter at the preaching of Egbert. 23. About the present state of the English nation, and of all Britain. 24. Chronological recapitulation of the whole work: and about the author himself.

Chapter 2 At the beginning of reign of Aldfrith, Bishop Eata died, and was succeeded as bishop of the Church of Hexham by John, a holy man. Those that knew him well told many stories about his miracles. These were told especially by the reverend Berhthun, a man of undoubted honesty, formerly his deacon, and now abbot of the monastery called Inderauuda, that is, ‘in the wood of the men of Deira’ [Beverley]: the memory of some of those miracles I have thought fit to preserve for posterity. There is a certain building in a remote situation, enclosed by a wood and a rampart, about a mile and a half from the Church of Hexham, and



separated from it by the river Tyne, having an oratory dedicated to St Michael the Archangel. The man of God used to stay there with a few companions as often as he could, and particularly in Lent. Once when he was there at the beginning of Lent, he told his followers to find some poor person suffering any kind of serious infirmity, or in great need, whom he might keep with him during those days, so that he might benefit from giving them alms, which was something he always used to do. There was in a village not far off, a certain dumb boy, known to the bishop, for he often used to come into his presence to receive alms, and had never been able to speak a word. Besides, he had so much scurf and scabs on his head, that no hair ever grew on top of it, but only some scattered hairs in a circle around it. The bishop caused this young man to be brought in, and a little hut was put up for him within the enclosure of their dwelling, in which he could stay and receive his daily allowance. When one week of Lent was over on the second Sunday the bishop caused the poor man to come to him, and told him to put out his tongue and show it to him; then he took hold of his chin, made the sign of the cross on his tongue, and told him to draw it back into his mouth and to speak. ‘Pronounce some word,’ said he; ‘say gea,’ which, in the language of the English, is the word of affirming and consenting, that is, yes. The youth’s tongue was immediately loosed, and he said what he had been told to say. The bishop then pronounced the names of the letters of the alphabet, and directed him to say ‘A’; he did so, and then ‘B’, which he did also. When he had named all the letters after the bishop, he taught him syllables and words, which he repeated; then he commanded him to utter whole sentences, and he did so. Those who were present say that the young man did not stop talking all day and into the next night, as long as he could keep awake, expressing his private thoughts and wishes

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to others, which he had never been able to do before. This was like the behaviour of the cripple, who, being healed by the Apostles Peter and John, stood up, leaped and then walked, and went with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising the Lord, rejoicing to have the use of his feet, which he had so long lacked. [cf. Acts 3.2–8] The bishop was glad about his recovery of speech, and ordered the physician to take in hand the cure of his scurvied head. He did so, and with the help of the bishop’s blessing and prayers, a good head of hair grew as the flesh was healed. Thus the youth gained a good appearance, a ready speech, and a beautiful head of curly hair, whereas before he had been ugly, poor, and dumb. Thankful for his recovery, the bishop offered to keep him in his household; but he preferred to return home.

Chapter 7 In the third year of the reign of Alfrith, Caedwalla, king of the West Saxons, having ruled his people very energetically for two years, laid down his authority for the sake of the Lord and his everlasting kingdom. He went to Rome, because he wanted to obtain the special honour of being baptized in the church of the blessed apostles, for he had learned that by baptism alone is the entrance to heaven opened to mankind. He hoped that immediately after baptism he would pass into the eternal joys of heaven; both these things, by the blessing of our Lord, came to pass as he had wished. He came to Rome, in the time of Pope Sergius, and was baptized on Holy Saturday before Easter Day in the year of our Lord 689, and while he was still in his white robes he fell sick and died on the 20th of April, and went to



join the blessed in heaven. At his baptism the Pope had given him the name of Peter, so that he might be united in name to the most blessed prince of the apostles, to whose most holy body his pious love had brought him from the utmost bounds of the earth. He was also buried in the church of St Peter, and by the Pope’s command an epitaph was written on his tomb, so that the memory of his devotion might be preserved for ever, and the readers or hearers might be inflamed with religious desire by the example of what he had done … ‘Here was buried Caedwalla, also called Peter, king of the Saxons, who had lived for about thirty years, on the twelfth day of the kalends of May, the second indiction, in the reign of the most pious emperor, Justinian, in the fourth year of his consulship, in the second year of our apostolic lord, Pope Sergius.’ When Caedwalla went to Rome, Ine succeeded him on the throne, being of the royal line. When he had reigned for thirty-seven years over the West Saxons, he, like Caedwalla, gave up the kingdom to younger men, and went to Rome to visit the blessed apostles when Gregory was pope. He wanted to spend some of his time on earth in pilgrimage to the holy places, that he might be more readily welcomed more readily by the saints into heaven. About the same time, the same thing was done through the zeal of many of the English nation, nobles and commoners, laity and clergy, men and women.

Chapter 12 … [Dryhthelm] was the head of a family in that district of Northumbria which is called Cunningham; he led a good life, as did all his

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household. He fell sick, and his illness increased daily until he died at the beginning of the night; but early in the morning he suddenly came to life again, and sat up. All those sitting round the body weeping fled in terror; only his wife, who loved him best, though upset and trembling, remained with him. To comfort her, he said, ‘Do not be afraid, for I am indeed risen from the dead, and I have been allowed to live again on earth, though I cannot live as I used to but from now on I must adopt a very different way.’ Then immediately he got up and went to the oratory of the village, and continued to pray till daylight. He then divided all his goods into three parts; one of which he gave to his wife, another to his children, and the third which he allotted to himself he instantly distributed among the poor. Not long after, he freed himself from the cares of this world and went to the monastery of Melrose, which is almost enclosed by the winding of the river Tweed. He was tonsured and went into a private dwelling, which the abbot provided. There he continued till the day of his death, in such outstanding contrition of mind and body, that though his tongue was silent, his life declared that he had seen many things either to be dreaded or coveted, which others knew nothing of. [Bede then quotes Dryhthelm’s description of the visionary journey through hell and heaven which he had experienced in the company of a celestial guide and concluded:] ‘When we returned to the joyful mansions of the souls in white, my guide said to me, “Do you know what all these things are that you have seen?” I answered, “No” and he replied, “That valley you saw that was so dreadful with consuming flames and cutting cold, is the place for the souls of those who are tried and punished, because they delayed to confess and amend their sins. But at last they repented at the point of death, and so departed this



life. Because they confessed and repented even so late, they shall all be received into the kingdom of heaven at the day of judgment. Many of them are being aided before the day of judgment by the prayers, alms, and fasting of the living, and more especially by their masses. That fiery and stinking pit which you saw is the mouth of hell, into which whosoever falls shall never be delivered. This flowery place, in which you see these most beautiful young people, so bright and merry, is that into which the souls of those are received who depart the body after practicing good works, but who are not so perfect as to deserve to be immediately admitted into the kingdom of heaven. However at the day of judgment they shall all see Christ, and enter into the joys of his kingdom. Now those who are perfect in thought, word and deed, as soon as they leave the body immediately enter into the kingdom of heaven which is near that place where you heard the sound of sweet singing, with fragrant odours and bright lights. ‘ “But you must now return to your body, and live again on earth. If you will try to examine your actions closely and direct your speech and behaviour in righteousness and simplicity, you shall, after death, have a place among these joyful troops of blessed souls; for when I left you for a while, it was to know what your future will be.” When he had said this to me, I returned unwillingly to my body, being delighted with the sweetness and beauty of the place I had seen, and with the company of those I saw in it. However, I dared not ask him any questions; and in the meantime, I do not know how, I suddenly found myself alive again among my fellow men.’ Now these and other things which this man of God saw, he would not relate to idlers and such as lived carelessly; but only to those

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who, being terrified with the dread of torments, or delighted with the hopes of heavenly joys, would make use of his words to advance in piety. In the neighbourhood of his cell lived Haemgisl, a priestmonk, honoured for his good works: he is still living, and leading a solitary life in Ireland, supporting his old age with coarse bread and cold water. He often went to see Dryhthelm, and asked him many questions and heard from him all the details of what he had seen when separated from his body. It was through him that I came to know those few details which I have briefly set down. Dryhthelm also told his visions to King Aldfrith, a man most learned in all respects, and was heard by him so willingly and attentively that it was at his request that he was admitted into the monastery and received the monastic tonsure. When Aldfrith happened to be in those parts, he went very often to hear him. At that time the religious and humble abbot and priest, Aethelwald presided over the monastery, and now deservedly holds the see of Lindisfarne. Dryhthelm had a more private place of residence assigned him in that monastery, where he might apply himself to the service of his Creator in continual prayer. And as that place lay on the bank of the river, he often used to go into the water to do physical penance, many times dipping right under the water, and continuing to say psalms or prayers. He remained there as long as he could endure it, standing sometimes up to his middle, and sometimes to his neck in water. When he got out of the water he never took off his cold and frozen garments but let them thaw and dry on his body. In the winter half-broken pieces of ice were floating about him, which he had himself broken off to make room to stand or dip himself in the river, and when those who saw it would say, ‘It is wonderful, Brother



Dryhthelm, that you are able to endure such violent cold,’ he simply answered, for he was a man of much simplicity and pleasant wit, ‘I have known it colder.’ And when they said, ‘It is strange that you will endure such hardship,’ he replied, ‘I have seen it harder.’ Thus he continued to subdue his aged body with daily fasting out of an unceasing desire for heavenly bliss, till the day when he was called away. He aided the salvation of many by his words and example.

Chapter 21 At that time, Nechtan, king of the Picts, who lived in the north of Britain, learned by frequent meditation on ecclesiastical writings to renounce the error which he and his race had till then been under, in relation to the observance of Easter. He agreed, together with his people, to celebrate the Catholic time of the Lord’s resurrection. In order to do this more easily and with greater authority, he sought assistance from the English, whom he knew had long before shaped their religion after the example of the holy Roman apostolic Church. So he sent messengers to the venerable Ceolfrith, abbot of the monastery of the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, which stands at the mouth of the river Wear, and near the river Tyne, at the place called Jarrow, which he was gloriously governing after [the death of] Benedict. He begged him to send him a letter containing arguments by the help of which he might the better confute those who presumed to keep Easter at the wrong time. He also asked him about the form and manner of tonsure which marked out the clergy, while making it clear that he himself possessed much information about such matters. He also asked that builders

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should be sent him to build a church of stone in his kingdom after the Roman manner, promising to dedicate the same in honour of St Peter, the prince of the apostles. He also said that he and all his people would always follow the customs of the holy Roman and apostolic Church, as far as their remoteness from the Roman language and nation would allow. The reverend Abbot Ceolfrith complied with his desires and request and sent the builders he asked for, with the following letter: ‘To the most excellent lord, and most glorious King Nechtan, Abbot Ceolfrith sends greeting in the Lord. We are very ready and willing to try to explain to you the Catholic observance of the holy festival of Easter, as we learned it from the apostolic see, as you, most devout king, have requested. For we know that whenever rulers apply themselves to learn, to teach, and to preserve the truth, it is a gift from heaven to Holy Church. As a certain secular writer most truly said, the world would be most happy if either kings were philosophers, or philosophers were kings. For if a secular man could speak the truth about worldly philosophy and judge truly about the government of this world, how much more desirable it is, and most earnestly to be prayed for by the citizens of the heavenly country who are pilgrims in this world, that the more powerful any persons are in this world, the more they may strive to be acquainted with the commands of Him who is the Supreme Judge, and by their example and authority may induce those that are committed to their charge, as well as themselves, to keep the same. [There then follows a detailed analysis of the system for calculating the date of Easter and then a discussion about the form of the tonsure.]



‘Now if it will please you likewise to hear the mystical reason in this matter, we are commanded to keep Easter in the first month of the year, which is also called the month of new things, because we are to celebrate the mysteries of our Lord’s resurrection and our deliverance, with our minds renewed to the love of heavenly things. We are commanded to keep it in the third week of the same month, because Christ, who had been promised before the Law, and under the Law, came with grace, in the third age of the world, to be slain as our Passover. Rising from the dead the third day after the offering of his passion, he wished this to be called the Lord’s day, and the festival of his resurrection to be yearly celebrated on the same day. For we also can truly celebrate his solemnity, only if we take care with him to keep the Passover, that is, the passage out of this world to the Father, by faith, hope, and charity. We are commanded to observe the full moon of the Paschal month after the vernal equinox, to the end, that the sun may first make the day longer than the night, and then the moon may show to the world her full orb of light; inasmuch as first “the sun of righteousness, in whose wings is salvation” [Malachi 4.2], that is, the Lord Jesus, by the triumph of his resurrection, dispelled all the darkness of death. Ascending into heaven, he filled his Church, which is often signified by the name of the moon, with the light of inward grace, by sending down upon her his Spirit. It was this plan of salvation the prophet had in his mind, when he said “The sun was exalted and the moon stood in her order.” [Habakkuk 3.11] ‘He, therefore, who shall argue that the full Paschal moon can happen before the equinox, deviates from the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, in the celebration of the greatest mysteries, and agrees

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with those who say that they may be saved without the grace of Christ and who presume to teach that they could have attained to perfect righteousness, even if the true light had never vanquished the darkness of the world by dying and rising again. Thus, after the equinoctial rising of the sun, and after the subsequent full moon of the first month, that is, after the end of the fourteenth day of the same month, all which, according to the law, ought to be observed, we still, by the instruction of the Gospel, wait in the third week for the Lord’s day; and thus, at length, we celebrate our due Easter solemnity, to show that we do not, with the ancients, honour the shaking off of the Egyptian yoke; but that, with devout faith and affection, we honour the redemption of the whole world; which having been prefigured in the deliverance of God’s ancient people, was completed in Christ’s resurrection, to make it appear that we rejoice in the sure and certain hope of the day of our own resurrection, which we believe will happen on the same Lord’s day. … ‘But I also admonish you in your wisdom, O king, that you endeavour to make the nation over which the King of kings and Lord of lords has placed you observe in all points those things which belong to the unity of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; for thus it will come to pass, that after your temporal kingdom has passed away, the blessed prince of the apostles will open to you and yours the entrance into the heavenly kingdom, where you will rest for ever with the elect. The grace of the eternal King preserve you in safety, long reigning for the peace of us all, my most beloved son in Christ.’

When this letter was read in the presence of King Nechtan, and many

of his learned men, and carefully interpreted into his own language by



those who could understand it, he is said to have been delighted at the exhortation. Therefore he got up from among his great men that sat about him, and knelt on the ground, giving thanks to God that he had been found worthy to receive such a gift from the land of the English, saying, ‘I knew indeed already that this was the true celebration of Easter, but now that I fully know the reason for observing this time, I am convinced that I knew little of it before. Therefore I publicly declare and proclaim to all here present, that I will always observe this time of Easter, with all my people; and I also decree that this tonsure, which we have heard is most reasonable, shall be received by all the clergy in my kingdom.’ Accordingly he at once enforced what he had said by his royal authority. For the nineteen-year cycles [of dates for Easter as used in Rome] were presently by public command sent throughout all the provinces of the Picts to be transcribed, learned and observed, the erroneous eighty-four-year cycles [used by the British and Irish Churches] being everywhere suppressed. All the ministers of the altar and monks had their hair cut in the form of a crown. The nation thus reformed rejoiced at being newly put under the direction of Peter, the most blessed prince of the apostles, and placed under his protection.

Chapter 23 … At the present time [731] Tatwine and Ealdwulf are bishops in the Church of Kent; Ingwold is bishop in the kingdom of Essex; Eadberht and Hathulac are bishops in East Anglia; Daniel and Forthere bishops of the West Saxons; Ealdwine bishop of Mercia and Wealhstod bishop of the people who are west of the Severn. Wilfrid

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is bishop of the kingdom of the Hwicce and Cyneberht bishop of Lindsey. The bishopric of the Isle of Wight belongs to Daniel bishop of Winchester. The kingdom of the South Saxons was for some time vacant and received episcopal care from the bishop of the West Saxons. All these kingdoms and the other southern kingdoms extend right up to the Humber and their kings are subject to Aethelbald, king of Mercia. At present in the kingdom of the Northumbrians, where King Ceolwulf reigns, four bishops now preside: Wilfrid in the Church of York, Aethelwold in that of Lindisfarne, Acca in that of Hexham, Pehthelm in that which is called Whithorn, which, from the increased number of believers, has lately become an episcopal see, and has him for its first bishop. The Picts also at this time are at peace with the English nation, and rejoice in being united in peace and truth with the whole Catholic Church. The Irish who live in Britain, satisfied with their own territories, plot no hostilities against the nation of the English. The Britons, though they, for the most part through innate hatred, are adverse to the English nation, and wrongfully from wicked custom oppose the appointed Easter of the whole Catholic Church, nevertheless with both the divine and human power withstanding them, can in no way prevail as they desire; for though in some parts they are their own masters yet elsewhere they are in subjection to the English. Such being the peaceable and calm disposition of the times, many of the Northumbrians, both nobles and private people have put aside their weapons, choosing to dedicate both themselves and their children to taking the tonsure and monastic vows, rather than



studying martial discipline. What will be the end hereof, the next age will show. This is for the present the state of all Britain in this year, about 285 since the coming of the English into Britain, but in the 731st year of the incarnation of the Lord. In whose reign may the earth ever rejoice; may Britain exult in the profession of his faith; and may ‘many islands be glad’ [Psalm 96.1], and ‘sing praises in honour of his holiness!’ [Psalm 29.5]

Chapter 24 I, Bede, servant of Christ, and priest of the monastery of the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, which is at Wearmouth and Jarrow, have with the help of God and to the best of my ability, set out this account of the history of the Church in Britain and of the English people in particular. I was born in the territory of that same monastery and at the age of seven I was given by my family to the monks to be educated by the most reverend Abbot Benedict, and afterwards by Ceolfrith. I have spent all the rest of my life in this monastery where I have given myself up to the study of Scripture, and amidst the observance of monastic discipline and the daily duty of singing in the church, I have always found it to be my delight to learn, to teach, and to write. When I was nineteen, I received deacon’s orders; when I was thirty, the order of priesthood, both of them by the ministry of the most reverend Bishop John, and by the order of the Abbot Ceolfrith. From that time, till the fifty-ninth year of my age, I have made it my

162 Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

business, for the use of myself and others, to make compilations out of the works of the venerable Fathers, and to interpret and explain them according to their meaning in many books. These are the books: On the Beginning of Genesis, to the Nativity of Isaac and the casting out of Ishmael, three books. Of the Tabernacle and its Vessels, and of the priestly vestments, three books. On the first Part of Samuel, to the death of Saul, four books. Of the Building of the Temple, an allegorical exposition, like the rest, two books. On the Book of Kings, thirty questions. On Solomon’s Proverbs, three books. On the Song of Songs, seven books. On Isaiah, Daniel, the twelve Prophets, and part of Jeremiah, division of chapters taken from St Jerome’s treatise. On Ezra and Nehemiah, three books. On the Song of Habakkuk, one book. On the Book of the blessed father Tobias, an allegorical exposition concerning Christ and the Church, one book. Also, summaries of interpretations of Moses’ Pentateuch; Joshua, and Judges; the Books of Kings and Chronicles. Of the book of the blessed father Job. Of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Of the Prophets Isaiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Also of the books of Tobit, Judith and Esther.



On the Gospel of Mark, four books. On the Gospel of Luke, six books. Homilies on the Gospel, two books. On the Apostle [Paul], I have carefully transcribed in order all that I have found in St Augustine’s Works. On the Acts of the Apostles, two books. On the seven Catholic Epistles, a book on each. On the Revelation of St John, three books. Also summaries of interpretations of the whole New Testament, except the Gospels. Also a book of letters to various people. One of them is about the six ages of the world; one on the resting places of the Children of Israel; one on the words of Isaiah: ‘And they shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited’; one on the reason of the leap year, and one about the Equinox, according to Anatolius. Also the histories of saints. I translated into prose from Paulinus’s metrical work a book about the life and passion of St Felix the confessor. A book of the Life and Passion of St Anastasius, which was badly translated from the Greek by some ignorant person and worse amended I have corrected as best I could to clarify the sense. I have written about the life of the holy father Cuthbert, who was both monk and bishop, first in heroic verse, and then in prose. The history of the abbots of this monastery in which I rejoice to

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serve God, that is Benedict, Ceolfrith, and Hwaetberht, in two books. The history of the Church of our island and nation in five books. A martyrology of the festivals of the holy martyrs, in which I have tried to set down carefully all that I could find out about them, not only on what day, but also by what sort of combat, or under what judge they overcame the world. A book of hymns in several sorts of metre, or rhythm. A book of epigrams in heroic or elegiac verse. A book on the nature of things, and another about time, one book of each. Also, a larger book about time. A book of orthography arranged in alphabetical order. Also a book on the art of poetry, and to it I have added another little book of figures of speech or tropes and; that is, on the figures and ways of speaking in which the Holy Scriptures are written. And now, I pray you, good Jesus, that as you have graciously granted me to drink of the words that tell of you, so you will also grant that I may some day come to you, the fountain of all wisdom, and stand before your face forever.

Cuthbert’s letter about the death of Bede

To Cuthwin, dear in Christ and fellow teacher, in the name of the everlasting God, from Cuthbert the deacon, greetings: I received gratefully the small present you sent me, and I read your letter, full of sound and pious learning, with great pleasure. From it I learnt what I really wanted to know, that is, that you are regularly offering masses and devout prayers for the benefit of Bede, our father and our master. I am ready, therefore, more out of love of him than because of any confidence in my own skill, to send you a few words about his passing out of this world, since I understand that this is what you have expressed a desire to receive. He was taken ill for about a fortnight before Easter, in particular with frequent attacks of breathlessness but almost without pain; and after Easter he continued in the same way, cheerful and rejoicing, giving thanks to Almighty God day and night, and indeed almost hour by hour, until Ascension Day, which was May the twenty-sixth. He gave us his pupils lessons everyday, and spent the rest of his time in chanting the psalter, as best he could. He passed the whole of every night cheerfully, praying and giving thanks to God, except for a brief time of sleep. When he woke up, in the same way he would at once

166 Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

meditate on the familiar melodies of Scripture, spreading out his hands in thanksgiving to God. In fact, all I can say is that I have never seen or heard anyone so diligent in giving thanks to the living God. What a blessed man he was! He repeated that sentence from St Paul, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ [Hebrews 10.31] With many other quotations from holy Scripture, he urged us to awake out of spiritual lethargy by thinking beforehand of our last hour. In our own language (for he knew our English poetry well) and speaking of the soul’s dread departure from the body, he recited: Fore them neidfaerae  naenig uuiurthit thoncsnottura  than him tharf sie, to ymbhycggannae,  aer his hiniongae, huaet his gastae  godaes aeththa yflaes aefter deothdaege  doemid uueorthae. Facing that enforced journey,  no man can be More prudent  than he has good call to be; If he consider,  before his going hence What for his spirit  of good fortune or of evil After his day of death  shall be determined. He also used to sing antiphons for his own comfort and ours, of which one was ‘O King of glory, Lord of might, who ascended this day in triumph above the heavens, leave us not comfortless, but send to us the promise of the Father, even the Spirit of truth. Alleluia.’ [Antiphon for Ascension Day] But when he came to the words ‘leave us not comfortless’, he broke down in tears; it was an hour before he could resume what he had left unfinished, and so it was every

Cuthbert’s letter about the death of Bede


day. When we heard this, we shared his sorrow; we read and wept alternately, or rather, we wept continually as we read. So in this way we passed the days between Easter and Pentecost as far as the date I mentioned. He was filled with joy, and thanked God that he had been found worthy to suffer this illness. He used to say repeatedly: ‘God scourges every son whom He receives’ [Hebrews 12.6] and he repeated a sentence of St Ambrose: ‘I have not so lived, that life among you now would make me ashamed; but I am not afraid to die either, for the God we serve is good.’ At that time, besides the lessons which he gave us every day and his chanting of the psalter, there were two pieces of work worth mentioning which he wanted to finish: the gospel of St John, which he was turning into our own language to the great profit of the Church, from the beginning as far as the words ‘But what are they among so many?’ [John 6.9] and a selection from Bishop Isidore’s book The Wonders of Nature, for he said, ‘I cannot have my children learning what is not true, and working in vain on this after I am gone.’ When it came to the Tuesday before Ascension Day, his breathing became very much worse, and a slight swelling appeared in his feet; but all the same he taught us the whole of that day, and dictated cheerfully, and among other things said several times, ‘Learn your lesson quickly now; for I do not know long I may be with you; perhaps my Maker may take me from you very soon.’ But it seemed to us that he knew very well when he would die. So he spent all that night awake and giving thanks; and at daybreak on the Wednesday, he told us to continue the writing which we had begun and finish it without delay. We worked at it until nine o’clock, then we went in procession with the relics, as is the custom on that day.

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One of us stayed with him, and said to him: ‘There is still one chapter to do in the book you were dictating, but I think it will be hard on you to reply to any more questions.’ But he replied, ‘It is easy. Take your pen and mend it, and then write quickly.’ The brother did so. At three o’clock our master said to me: ‘I have a few treasures in my box, some pepper, and napkins, and some incense. Run quickly and bring the priests of our monastery, and I will share among them such little presents as God has given me.’ Trembling, I did so and when they came he spoke to each one in turn, urging and begging them to offer masses and prayers regularly on his behalf, and they promised willingly. But they were very sad, and they all wept, especially because he had said that he thought they would not see his face much longer in this world. But they were glad about one thing that he said: ‘It is time, if it pleases my Maker, that I should be released from the body, and return to Him who formed me out of nothing, when I was not. I have lived a long time, and the righteous Judge has provided well for me all my life long. The time of my departure is at hand and my soul longs to see Christ my King in all His beauty.’ He said this and other things to our profit, and so spent his last day in gladness until the evening. Then the boy whom I mentioned whose name was Wilberht spoke once again: ‘Dear master, there is still one sentence that we have not written down.’ And he said, ‘Write it.’ After a little while the boy said, ‘Now it is done.’ He replied: ‘Good! It is finished; you have spoken the truth. Hold my head in your hands, for it is a great delight to me to sit over against my holy place in which I used to pray, that as I sit there I may call upon my Father.’ And so upon the floor of his cell, singing ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit’ and the rest, he breathed his last.

Cuthbert’s letter about the death of Bede


There is no doubt that since he had laboured here always in the praise of God his soul was carried by angels to the joys of heaven which he had long desired. So all who heard or saw the death of our holy father Bede declared that they had never seen a man end his days in such great goodness and peace. As I have said, as long as his soul remained in the body he chanted the ‘Gloria Patri’ and other songs to the glory of God, and spreading out his hands ceased not to give God thanks. I assure you that many more stories could be told or written about him; but the feebleness of my tongue cuts my words short. In time, however, I plan with God’s help to write a fuller account of all that I myself have seen and heard regarding him. Here ends Cuthbert’s letter on the death of the venerable priest, Bede.

Index of Names and Places See also the map – ‘Bede’s England’ – on page 34. Acca, bishop of Hexham 160 Aebba, abbess 128 Aeda, Irish king in Britain 63 Aeddi, cantor 118 Aelthelbald, king of Mercia 160 Aethelberht, king of Kent 40, 58–61 Aethelburh, queen, wife of Edwin 71–4, 78, 121 Aethelfrith, king of Northumbria 5, 11, 40, 63–4 Aethelred, king of Mercia 120 Aethelthryth, queen of Northumbria, later abbess of Ely 101, 114, 127–31 Aethelwald, bishop of Lindisfarne 154, 160 Aethelwealh, king of the South Saxons 123, 124, 125 Aetla, bishop of Dorchester 133 Agatho 108 Agilbert, bishop of Paris 117 Agilbert, bishop of the West Saxons 108, 110 Aidan, saint, bishop of Lindisfarne 8, 10, 14, 15, 29n. 13, 82, 83, 89–91, 94–5, 110, 111, 132, 141 Alban 3, 19, 38, 47–50 Albinus, abbot 41, 42 Aldfrith, king of Northumbria 154 Alhfrith, king of Deira 107 Ambrosius 39

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 20 Arles 69, 117 Augustine, archbishop of Canterbury 2, 10, 12, 17, 65, 70–1, 141 mission of 7, 15, 18, 40, 57, 58, 59 Augustine, bishop of Hippo 2, 13, 15, 25, 28n. 4, 30n. 18 Bamburgh 92, 95 Bangor-on-Dee, monastery of 11, 63 Barking 8 Bath 21 Bede, monk of Wearmouth–Jarrow 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, 13, 20, 21, 25, 36, 37, 41, 161 Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum 2, 13–14, 17, 24, 35–164 Charles Plummer, Latin edition (1896) 35 Thomas Stapleton, English translation (1565) 25 de Temporibus 96 Letter to Egbert 17 Letter to Plegwin 17 Life of St Cuthbert 43 On the Song of Songs 28n. 8 Prose Life of Cuthbert 17 Benedict Biscop, abbot of Wearmouth–Jarrow 9, 155, 161, 164

172 Index of Names and Places

Berhtwold, archbishop of Canterbury 121, 146 Bernicia (northern part of kingdom of Northumbria) 85, 92 Bertha, queen, wife of Aethelberht 58, 61 Birinus, bishop of Dorchester 14 Blaecca, governor of Lincoln 80 Boisil, monk of Melrose 139–40, 143 Boniface, pope: letter to Queen Aethelburh 66, 71–4 Bosa, bishop of York 133 Bosel, bishop of Worcester, 133 Bridius, king of the Picts 87 British Church 4, 5, 9, 11 Brittany 21 Brocmail [possibly Welsh Brochfael] 12, 64 Cadwallon [ap Cadfan] king of the Britons 85 Caedmon, monk of Whitby 20, 135–9 Caedwalla, king of the West Saxons 9, 10, 124, 146, 150–1 Caelin 98, 99 Caerleon 51 Calcaria 132 Canterbury 19, 41, 59 St Martin’s church 60, 61 Cassiodorus 22 Catterick 78, 93 Cedd, bishop of the East Saxons 42, 84, 97–8, 99, 105, 108, 110 ‘Celtic Christianity’ 23–4 Ceolfrith, abbot of Wearmouth– Jarrow 146, 155, 161, 164, letter to Nechtan, 4, 30n. 17, 156–9 Ceolwulf, king of Northumbria 6, 37, 41, 160 Ceretic, king of the Britons 134

Chad, bishop of Lichfield 15, 99, 100, 101–5, 112, 119 Chelles, monastery of 131 Chester 11, 26, 63 Cirencester 21 Coifi, pagan priest 75, 76 Coldingham 128 Colman, saint, bishop of Lindisfarne 84, 107, 108, 110, 111 Columba, saint, abbot of Iona, missionary 14, 109 Columba, saint 87–8 Columbanus, saint 22, 23 Constantinople 1, 119 Constantius: Life of St Germanus 19 Cumbria 21 Cunningham 151 Cuthbert, deacon, abbot of Wearmouth–Jarrow: Letter on the Death of Bede 165–9 Cuthbert, saint, bishop of Hexham then Lindisfarne 7, 8, 14, 15, 43, 114, 139, 140–1, 142, 143, 145, 161 Cwenburh, queen, wife of Edwin 78 Cyneberht, abbot of Redbridge 126 Cyneberht, bishop of Lindsey 43 Cynebil 99 Dalfinus, archbishop of Lyons 107 Damian, bishop of Rochester 112, 119 Daniel, bishop of the West Saxons 42, 126, 159, 160 David, saint 21 Dearmach [Durrow], monastery of 88 Deda, abbot of Partney 81 Deira (southern part of kingdom of Northumbria)/Deiri 68, 78, 85, 92

Index of Names and Places

Denisesburn 85 Deusdedit, archbishop of Canterbury 112, 115 Dicuill, Irish monk 123 Dinoot [Dunawd], abbot of Bangor 12 Diocletian, Roman emperor 46 Dryhthelm 151–2, 154 Dunwich 80 Eadbald, king of Kent, 72 Eadberht, bishop in East Anglia 159 Eadberht, bishop of Lindisfarne 145 Eafe, queen of the South Saxons 123 Ealdwine, bishop of Mercia 159 Ealdwulf, bishop of Rochester 159 Ealdwulf, king of the East Angles 79, 120, 132 Eanflaed, daughter of Edwin and Aethelburh 74, 106 Eanfrith, king of Bernicia 85 Easter, date of 4, 5, 15, 18, 106–10, 157–9 Eata, bishop of Lindisfarne 110, 111, 139, 141, 146 Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria 120, 123, 125, 127, 128, 139, 143 Edwin, king of Northumbria 21, 66, 71, 77, 78, 81, 82, 85, 93 Egbert, English bishop in Ireland 88–9, 105 Egbert, king of Kent 115, 117 Eleutherius, pope 28n. 2, 37, 46 Ely, monastery of 128, 131 Emme, bishop of Sens 117 Eorcenberht, king of Kent 115, 128 Eorcenwold, bishop of London 121 Eorpwold, king of the East Saxons, 79 Esi, abbot 43


Eusebius of Ceasarea 8, 29n. 11 Eutyches/Eutychian heresy 119 Faber, Frederick William 26, 32n. 32 Farne Island 142 Faro, bishop of Meaux 117 Faustus, saint, bishop of Riez 31n. 2 Felix, saint, bishop of the East Angles 80, 107 Finan, saint, bishop of Lindisfarne 106, 107, 110 Finnian, Irish monk 21 Forthere, bishop in Wessex 159 Fortunatus: In Praise of Virgins 47 Gaul 23 Geoffrey of Monmouth 24 Germanus, saint, bishop of Auxerre 12, 29n. 11, 30n. 21, 31n. 26 Gewisse (tribe of West Saxons) 125, 127 Gildas 8, 9, 10, 18, 20, 21, 30n. 21 On the Downfall of Britain 8 Gloucester 21 Grantacæstir [Cambridge] 129 Gregory the Great, saint, pope 13, 28n. 4, 40, 42, 56, 65, 67–71, 119, 151 letters to Augustine 57–8, 61–2, 69 letter via Mellitus 70–71 mission to England 9, 39 relation and instruction to Augustine 10–11, 40 Goodmanham 77 Hadrian, abbot of St Peter and St Paul’s monastery (later St Augustine’s), Canterbury 41, 112, 115–16, 117, 118 Hatfield, Synod of [679] 113, 120

174 Index of Names and Places

Heavenfield 86 Hengest and Horsa, Jutish leaders, sons of Wihtgisl 20, 54 Heruteu [Hartlepool], monastery of 132 Hexham 86, 139, 143, 144 Hild [Hilda], abbess of Whitby 20, 108, 114, 131, 132, 134–5, 137 Hiridanum (near Naples), monastery of 115 Hlothhere, king of Kent 120 Honorius, archbishop of Canterbury 80, 107 Honorius, pope 66 Hunwald 93 Hwaetberht, abbot of Wearmouth– Jarrow 164 Inderauuda, monastery of 148 Ine, king of Wessex 32n. 30 Ingwold, bishop in Essex 159 Iona, monastery of 14, 15, 16, 18, 87, 89, 110 Irish Church/Ireland 4, 5, 14, 21, 53, 88 Italy 23 Ithamar, bishop of Rochester 83 James the deacon 81, 106, 108, 118 John of Beverley, bishop of Hexham then York 8, 14, 133, 148–50, 161 Julius Ceasar, Roman emperor 37, 45–6, 51 Lancashire 21 Lastingham, monastery of 42, 43, 99, 100, 101 Lichfield 100 Lindisfarne 8, 18, 96, 99, 106 monastery of/Church of 15, 16, 43, 139, 143, 144, 145, 154

Lindsey (province) 80, 100 Littleborough 81 Loidis [Leeds] 79 Luidhard, bishop 59 Maelmin 78 Marcian, Roman emperor 53 Maurice, emperor in the Eastern Empire 56, 58 Mellitus, archbishop of Canterbury 29n. 13, 40 Melrose, monastery of 139, 141, 152 Nechtan, king of the Picts 4, 155, 156, 158 Newman, John Henry 26, 27, 32n. 31 Ninian, saint, bishop 14, 31n. 24, 87 Northumbria 21, 63, 99, 160 Nothelm 42 Oethelwald, king of Deira 84, 97–8 Oftfor, bishop of Worcester 133 Osfrith and Eadfrith, sons of Edwin 78 Osorius (Christian historian): Against the Pagans 19, 30n. 18 Osric, king of Deira 85, 93, 133 Oswald, king of Northumbria 77, 82, 85, 86, 90, 91–2 Oswine, king of Deira 10, 83, 93, 94–5 Oswiu, king of Bernicia 10, 31n. 23, 83, 93, 94, 100, 107, 108, 110, 111, 115 Owine, monk, companion of Chad 101–3 Paris 22 Parker, Matthew, archbishop of Canterbury 25 Patrick, saint, missionary in Ireland 21

Index of Names and Places

Paulinus, bishop 8, 83, 85, 131 mission of, to Northumbria 19, 21, 66, 74–81 Pehthelm, bishop of Whithorn 160 Pelagius/Pelagian heresy 4, 12, 24, 31n. 26, 66 Penda, king of Mercia 85 Picts 14, 44–5, 51, 53, 82, 87, 160 Prosper of Aquitaine, saint 31n. 26 Putta, bishop of Rochester 112, 119 Quentavic 117


106, 112, 113, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 143, 146 Thrydwulf, abbot 79 Tobias, bishop of Rochester 121, 146 Trumwine, bishop of the Picts 143 Tuda, bishop of Lindisfarne 84, 110 Valentinian, Roman emperor 53 Verulamium [St Albans] 50 Vitalian, pope 115, 117 Vortigern, British king 20, 30n. 21, 54

Samson, Welsh Life of St 22, 31n. 25 Seaxburh, queen, wife of Eorcenberht of Kent, abbess of Ely 128 Segene, abbot of Iona 89 Sergius, pope 10, 150 Severus [Septimius Severus], Roman emperor 30n. 19, 46, 52 Sigeberht, brother of Eorpwold 79 Streanæshealh see Whitby Swaefeard, king of Kent 121

Wealhstod, bishop of Hereford 159 Wearmouth–Jarrow, monastery of 8, 9, 29n. 11, 161 Wessex 14, 20 Whitby monastery at 108, 132–3 Synod of [664] 4, 16, 18 Wigheard, archbishop of Canterbury 112, 115 Wihtred, king of Kent 121 Wilfrid, bishop of Hwicce 159–60 Wilfrid, saint, bishop of York then Hexham 16, 29n. 15, 32nn. 31, 32, 107, 108, 109, 113, 118, 123, 124, 125, 127, 128, 129, 133, 145, 160 Life, by Frederick Faber (published by Newman) 26 Life, by Stephen of Ripon 16 Winfrid, bishop 106 Wulfhere, king of Mercia 100, 106, 123

Tatwine, bishop in Kent 159 Theodore (of Tarsus), archbishop of Canterbury 16, 41, 100,

Yeavering 78 Yffi, son of Osfrith 78 York 8, 16, 77, 78, 143, 160

Raedwald, king of East Anglia 79 Reculver, monastery of 121 Redbridge, monastery of 126 Reformers 25 Rheged (British kingdom) 31n. 23 Ripon 16, 107 Rochester 119 Church of 4, 9, 14, 49, 155 practice of 5, 11, 13, 24 Romanus 108 Rome 1, 7, 9, 10, 13, 16, 19, 23, 115, 151 Ronan 106