My seminary in Rome, the Beda College, is named after St Bede. But who was he?
St Bede was born in about 673 near Newcastle, and was sent to be educated at the monastery of Monkwearmouth near present day Sunderland. Later he was transferred to its sister community in close-by Jarrow. There in about 701 he wrote his first works, intended for use in the classroom. He continued to write for the rest of his life, eventually completing over 60 books, most of which have survived. He enjoyed music, and was said to be accomplished as a singer and as a reciter of poetry. In about 702 he was ordained priest, and his life was spent in a round of prayer, observance of the monastic life, and study of the Scriptures. He only travelled as far as York and the monastery of Lindisfarne, but nothing certain is known of any other journeys.
Bede wrote scientific, historical and theological works, reflecting the range of his interests. He is mainly studied as a historian now, and his best-known work is An Ecclesiastical History of the English People. This begins with Caesar’s invasion in 55BC and brings the story up to Bede’s day, and it is our main source of knowledge of that period. He includes an account of the conflict over the dating of Easter, and it was he who made the AD system of dating popular. Modern historians have been lavish in their praise, one describing him as “the first and greatest of England’s historians”, another says that he “holds a privileged and unrivalled place among first historians of Christian Europe”.
Bede died on Ascension Thursday, 26 May 735 and was buried at Jarrow, but in about 1020 his remains were transferred to magnificent Durham Cathedral, where his tomb is in the Galilee chapel. Devotion to him spread across Europe especially during the tenth century, by which time he was often called “the Venerable Bede”. His scholarship and importance were recognized in 1899 when he was declared a Doctor of the Church, the only native born English one. He is also the only Englishman in Dante’s “Paradise”.