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Born in Wessex, England, c. 640; died at Doulting in Somerset, May 25, 709. In the 7th century an Irish monk named Maeldubh (f.d. May 17) settled in the lonely forest country that in those days lay in the northeast of Wiltshire. After living for a time as a hermit, he gathered the children of the neighbourhood for instruction. In the course of time his hermitage became a school and so continued after his death, acquiring fame as a community of scholars known as Malmesbury.

To this centre of learning came a young and clever boy called Aldhelm, a kinsman of Ina (Ine), King of Wessex. He was to be the first English scholar of distinction. After studying under Maeldubh, he learned what he could from Saint Adrian (f.d. January 9) and Saint Theodore (f.d. September 19) at Canterbury, where he probably became a monk (though he may have done so earlier at Malmesbury).

He returned to Malmesbury and under Aldhelm the school became a monastery, of which he was appointed abbot about 675. He knew Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, and attracted scholars from other lands. He was also a poet, and was so full of music that it was said that he could play every musical instrument in use. In course of time he established other smaller religious communities in the neighbourhood and, thereby, advanced education in all of Wessex.

He was an advisor to Ina and held in high regard by King Alfred, who wrote down this story about him. Aldhelm was distressed because the townspeople were indifferent to the church services, either by absenting themselves or by gossiping and remaining inattentive when they attended. He therefore stood on the town bridge and acted the part of a minstrel by singing popular ballads and reciting his verses interspersed with hymns, passages from the gospels, a bits of clowning in hopes of winning 'men's ears, and then their souls.' The result was that he soon collected a crowd of hearers and was able to impart simple religious teaching to them; 'whereas if he had proceeded with severity and excommunications, he would have made no impression whatever upon them.'

Later, at the request of Pope Sergius I, he accompanied Coedwalla, the West Saxon king, to Rome. Later still, he took an active part in disputes between the Celtic and the Anglo-Saxon Church. He addressed a famous letter to Gerent, king of Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall), explaining the date on which Easter ought to be kept by the Celtic clergy there. At one famous synod (Whitby?) Aldhelm attempted reconciliation with what remained of the old British Church in Cornwall, which was then a kingdom with its own king.

In 705, Aldhelm became the first bishop of Sherbourne, his appointment dating from the time of the division of the old diocese of Wessex into Sherborne and Winchester. His brief episcopate was marked by energy and enterprise. He had travelled a long way from the days when he joined the school in the forest and sang as a minstrel on Malmesbury Bridge. But always he is remembered as the Saxon poet-preacher, who first translated the Psalms into the Anglo-Saxon tongue, and who sang the words of Scripture into the hearts of the common people. In King Alfred's words:

'Aldhelm won men to heed sacred things by taking his stand as a gleeman and singing English songs on a bridge.'

His English writings, hymns and songs, with their music, have all perished; of his Latin works, the longest are a poem in praise of holy maidens and a treatise on virginity written for the nuns of Barking in Essex. In his lighter moments he composed Latin verse and metrical riddles. As a scholar, Saint Aldhelm has been described as 'ingenious,' and it has been well said that the Latin language went to his head. He liked to play with words and his writing was so involved and obscure as often to be unintelligible; but his reading was extensive--so extensive that he has been described as the first English librarian.

In his own day Aldhelm had a wide influence in southern England. He was buried at Malmesbury Abbey. The cape in Dorset usually called Saint Alban's Head is properly Saint Aldhelm's Head (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Duckett, Gill).

In art, Saint Aldhelm is portrayed as a bishop in a library. He is venerated at Malmesbury (Roeder).

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