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Today is the Feast of the Translation of his holy relics. Primary Feastday is 25 May.

Born in Wessex, England, c. 640; died at Doulting in Somerset, May 25, 709.

There is a short mention in Bede, who was his contemporary, but most of our knowledge of Aldhelm comes from the Life written by the monk William of Malmesbury. He was born about 639 when Cynegils, the first Christian King, ruled the West-Saxons, and Birinus, who had brought the Faith to Wessex, was the bishop at Dorchester. At the age of fifteen, he was sent to the monastery at Malmesbury to study under an Irish monk called Maedulph (Maeldubh). Although it had only been established for twenty years, it had already gained a reputation for scholarship and a fairly extensive library.

In 661 Aldhelm took monastic vows, and ten years later went to Canterbury, where the school under the two great scholars, Hadrian the abbot and Theodore the Archbishop, attracted students from every part of England. He spent two years at Canterbury and would like to have made another visit, but illness prevented him, and in 675 he was elected Abbot of Malmesbury on the death of Maedulph. Aldhelm was then thirty five years old and was to remain abbot until his death in 709.

Maedulph's church was a wooden structure, and Aldhelm replaced it with a great church built in stone, celebrating its completion and dedication to SS Peter and Paul with a poem of twenty one lines. He was an accomplished poet, and King Alfred's Handbook tells the story of how, when the congregation was thin at Malmesbury, Aldhelm went out and stood at the bridge, entertaining the people as a minstrel until he had lured them back to worship in the church.

Besides the minster at Malmesbury, Aldhelm established two other religious houses, St. Laurence at Bradford upon Avon and St. John Baptist at Frome, and there is still evidence of his buildings at both places. At Wareham the ancient church of St. Martin is believed to have been built by Aldhelm while he was waiting to cross to the continent on pilgrimage to Rome, and there is a small chapel dedicated to him on the headland which bears his name to the west of Swanage. His visit to Rome was a great success, and he returned with a charter from the Pope for his two monasteries at Malmesbury and Frome, exempting them from episcopal jurisdiction. Ina of Wessex and Ethelred of Mercia signed this document, guaranteeing peace to his foundations.

It is as a scholar that Aldhelm is best remembered, and among the writings that survive are his treatise on the number seven, which he sent to his friend and fellow student Aldfrid, King of Northumbria, a book of a hundred riddles, and a dissertation on poetic metre. His famous treatise In Praise of Virginity, he addressed to Hildilida and her nuns at Barking, among whom was Cuthburga, the wife of Aldfrid, who was to be the first abbess of Wimborne.

When Hedda, the West Saxon bishop, died in 705, the diocese was divided, with Daniel having his seat at Winchester, and St. Aldhelm becoming bishop of a new diocese with Sherborne as his Cathedral town. This new diocese incorporated the counties of Dorset, Somerset and part of Devon, stretching to Cornwall, with which Aldhelm had already had contact when he wrote a letter to King Geraint urging the British church to conform to the Roman customs.

St. Aldhelm was only bishop for four years, during which he built a cathedral at Sherborne and continued to administer his monastic communities. He died at the age of seventy in the church at Doulting, and his friend Egwin, the bishop of Worcester, had a vision at the time of his death and came post haste to bury him. The funeral procession from Doulting to Malmesbury was marked by stone crosses every seven miles and these were known as Bishopstones and were still in existence when William wrote. His tomb became a place of pilgrimage, and in 955 his body was translated to a magnificent shrine given by Ethelwulf, the father of Alfred the Great. Alfred's grandson Athelstan is buried by the side of his favourite saint, to whom he prayed before the battle of Brunanburh (Platts, Gallyon, Bowen).

Chronicle of the Kings of England
by William of Malmesbury

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