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Bede

baeda) (c.673-735. Monk of Jarrow and “the Father of English history.” Born at Monkton on Tyne, County Durham, he was taken at the age of seven to the newly founded monastery of Wearmouth a few miles away, moving almost at once to become one of the first members of the community at Jarrow, near his birthplace. He spent the whole of the rest of his life there, never traveling outside Northumbria so far as is known, and yet he became one of the most learned men in Europe. The scholarship and culture of Italy had been brought to England by Theodore of Tarsus,* who was archbishop of Canterbury in the early years of Bede's life, and it was introduced into Wearmouth and Jarrow by Benedict Biscop.* Here it coalesced with the simpler traditions of devotion and evangelism which came from the Celtic Church.* This caused Northumbria to be a beacon of Christian learning while darkness was gathering on the Continent, and Bede was the foremost example and promoter of that learning.

He grew up at Jarrow under Ceolfrith, from whom he learned the love of scholarship and personal devotion and discipline. When an epidemic swept the monastery, only Ceolfrith and Bede were left, and he records how they managed to maintain the regular divine worship. He was made deacon at the age of nineteen and priest at thirty by John of Beverley, bishop of Hexham. He learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He had a good knowledge of classical authors, which often had to be acquired from books of extracts or quotations in other people's writings. He was familiar with the works of Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great, and he knew something of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

Bede's writings cover a wide range, including natural history, chronology, biblical translation, and exposition. Most important was his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (“Church History of the English People”). He is described as “the Father of English history” partly because he was the first to try to write any kind of history of England at all, for he sets the story of the church in the general history of the nation. But this title is also due to him because of his methodology. His thorough scholarship is known, for example, by his asking friends to search the archives of the Roman Church and bring him copies of documents which he needed to see. He also had copies made of epitaphs. Where there was nothing in writing he tried to consult the best available oral tradition. He was not always critical, but his work is nonetheless invaluable and his stories are told with great charm. The account of his finishing his translation of John's gospel before his death is deservedly famous. His fame continued after his death, when he began to be known as “the Venerable Bede.” His bones were removed to Durham to the coffin of Cuthbert, and in 1370 placed in a special tomb in the cathedral.

See his History, ed. B. Colgrave and R.A.B. Mynors (1969); and P.H. Blair, The World of Bede (1970).