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Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Venerable Bede

Bede (673-735)'s name most likely derives from the Old English bēd, or prayer. Most likely his family had planned on his entering the clergy from birth.

He was known as Venerable Bede from the 9th century due to the holiness of his life. From Latin "venerablius" meaning "worthy of honour".

Young Bede was sent by his parents to the nearby newly founded monastery at Wearmouth at the age of 7. He was placed under the care of the abbot Benedict Biscop, Abbot of the monastery of Wearmouth and Jarrow, to be raised as a monk.

Two years after his transfer to Jarrow, all the monks responsible for leading the worship were killed by the plague leaving only the abbot and the 11 year old Bede to maintain the services.

Bede devoted his life to the study of scripture and recording of history. His entire working life was spent as a Benedictine monk at the monastery of Saint Peter at Wearmouth, and its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in Jarrow.

"The Venerable Bede Translates John" by James Doyle Penrose (1862-1932

The library in Jarrow was the largest library in England at the time. Bede became one of the most learned men in Western Europe.

All his works were written out by hand with ink made from ground up oak gall on vellum (animal skins).

He wrote 68 books in total, mainly religious biographies, scientific and theological works with a quill dipped in "encaustum", the monk’s word for ink.

Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede's classic historical tome written in Latin of the purest style, which tells of early Anglo Saxon kingdoms and their conversion to Christianity. Scrupulously researched, he even had a monk colleague gathering material for him in the Pope's archives in Rome

Bede cited his references and was very concerned about sources of all his sources, which created an important historical chain. He is credited with inventing footnoting.

An oddity in Bede's writings is that in one of his works, the Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, he writes in a manner that gives the impression he was married. The section in question is the only one in that work that is written in first-person view, where Bede says: "Prayers are hindered by the conjugal duty because as often as I perform what is due to my wife I am not able to pray."

In those days when people did not believe the Earth was round, Bede wrote that the Earth was round "like a playground ball", contrasting that with being "round like a shield".

Bede tells us of in writings of his interest in carpentry and music and how he enjoyed long walks along the Northumbrian coast that allowed him to study the movement of the tides.

Bede loved cooking and he was especially proud of his store of peppercorns and spices that he added to improve the bland monastery food.

Late in life Bede became almost blind because of the strain on his eyes of working long hours by candlelight. He would dictate his works to other monks, who would write them out for him.

Bede died on May 26, 735 (Ascension Day) on the floor of his cell, chanting "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit" and was buried at Jarrow.

Cuthbert, a disciple of Bede's, wrote a letter to a Cuthwin describing Bede's last days and his death. According to Cuthbert, Bede fell ill, "with frequent attacks of breathlessness but almost without pain", before Easter. Two days before Bede died, his breathing became worse and his feet swelled.

On the evening of May 26th his scribe, a boy named Wilberht said, "Dear master, there is one sentence still unfinished." "Very well," he replied, "write it down." After a short while, the lad said, "Now it is finished." "You have spoken truly," Bede replied. "It is well finished. Now raise my head in your hands, for it would give me great joy to sit facing the holy place where I used to pray, so that I may sit and call on my Father." Singing "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son," he died.

When Bede died his estate was made up of some peppercorns, incense and handkerchiefs.

Bede's remains were moved to Durham Cathedral’s Galilee Chapel in 1370 and lie within a tomb chest sealed by a black marble slab.

Bede's tomb in Durham Cathedral

Bede is the only Englishman to be named by Dante as being in paradise in his Divine Comedy.

St Paul's Church, Jarrow, where Bede worshipped is still situated on the grounds of the monastery. A nearby metro station, Bede station is named after him.

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