Previous Saint This month Next Saint
[Yesterday's last saint] [back to Calendar] [Today's next saint]

Feastday can be 25 May also. Born in Northumbria, England, 673; died at Jarrow, England, on May 25, 735.

In the days when Northumbria was a great scholastic centre with famous schools at Jarrow and York, Bede was the most distinguished of its scholars. Beginning at age seven (or three?), he was educated at the newly-founded monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow under Abbots Benedict Biscop (f.d. January 12) and Ceolfrid (f.d. September 25). In 703, he was received as a monk by Saint Benedict Biscop and ordained a priest at age 30 by Saint John of Beverley (f.d. May 7). Except for a few brief visits elsewhere, Bede spent the rest of his life in Jarrow; never going further afield than Lindisfarne and York.

"I have spent my whole life," he says, "in the same monastery, and while attentive to the rule of my order and the service of the Church, my constant pleasure lay in learning or teaching or writing." He numbered 600 monks among his pupils and became the Father of English learning. "I have devoted my energies to the study of Scriptures, observing monastic discipline, and singing the daily services in church."

Bede was a prodigious worker, the author of 45 volumes, including commentaries, text-books, and translations. His range was encyclopaedic, embracing the whole field of contemporary knowledge. He wrote grammatical and chronological works, hymns and other verse, letters, and homilies, and compiled the first martyrology with historical notes. These are in Latin, but Bede was also the first known writer of English prose (since lost). Bede's Biblical writings were extensive and important in their time, but it is as an historian that he is famous. The Latin of the hymns 'The hymn for conquering martyrs raise' and 'Sing we triumphant hymns of praise' was written by Bede.

His supreme achievement, completed in 731, was his "History of the English Church and People," in the laborious preparation of which he searched the archives of Rome (? most sources say he never left England), collecting and collating documents, and set forth in detail the first authoritative history of Christian origins in Britain. To this he added Lives of five early abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow. Nor until his last illness had he any assistance: "I am my own secretary; I dictate, I compose, I copy all myself."

Many stories have gathered round his name. This one is probably mythic: On a visit to Rome with other scholars, he found them puzzled by an inscription of cryptic letters upon an iron gate. A passing Roman citizen, seeing their confusion, sneered at Bede and rudely called him an English ox, when, to his surprise, Bede at once read out the meaning. From that time, because of the range of his wisdom and the keenness of his intellect, he was given the title of venerable.

But the best-known story is related by his contemporary Saint Cuthbert (f.d. March 20) of how when illness and weakness came upon him at the end of his life, his translation of Saint John's Gospel into the English tongue was still unfinished. Despite sleepless nights and days of weariness, he continued his task, and though he made what speed he could, he took every care in comparing the text and preserving its accuracy. "I don't want my boys," he said, "to read a lie or to work to no purpose after I am gone." His friends begged him to rest, but he insisted on working. "We never read without weeping," remarked one of them.

When it came to the last day, he called his scribe to him and told him to write with all possible speed. "There is still a chapter wanting," said the boy, as the day wore on; "had you not better rest for a while?" But Bede persisted with his task. "Be quick with your writing," he answered, "for I shall not hold out much longer."

When night fell, the boy said: "There is yet one sentence not written." "Write quickly," Bede replied; and when it was done, he said: "All is finished now," then after sending for his fellow monks and distributing to them his few belongings, in a broken voice he sang the Gloria and passed to his reward on Ascension Eve.

Of all the writers in Western Europe from the time of Saint Gregory the Great (f.d. September 3) until Anselm, Saint Bede was perhaps the best known and most influential, especially in England. He was a careful scholar and distinguished stylist. His works De Temporibus and De Temporum Ratione established the idea of dating events "anno domini" (A.D.).

Already in 853 a church council in Aachen referred to him as 'the venerable,' i.e., worthy of honour. Saint Boniface (f.d. June 5) called Bede 'a light of the church, lit by the Holy Spirit.' To Alcuin, himself the 'schoolmaster of his age,' he was 'blessed Bede, our master.' (Alcuin claimed Bede's relics worked miraculous cures.) Bede is the only Englishman whom Dante names in the "Paradiso." The centre of Bede's cultus is Durham, where his shrine is located, and York (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Duckett, Gill, Hamilton Thompson, White).

Saint Bede is depicted in art as an old monk writing with a quill and rule. He might also be shown (1) studying a book, (2) holding up a pitcher with light from heaven falling on him, or (3) supported by monks as he is dying (Roeder). He is the patron saint of scholars and historians (White).

Service to Our Venerable Father Bede of Jarrow

Iconographic images of Saint Bede

Bede's World: Museum of Early Medieval Northumbria at Jarrow

Saint Bede the Venerable Home Page

Medieval Sourcebook:
Bede: The Lives of The Holy Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, Benedict, Ceolfrid, Easterwine, Sigfrid, and Huetberht

Medieval Sourcebook:
Bede: The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindesfarne (721)

Writings are also located on this web site

Previous Saint This month Next Saint
[Yesterday's last saint] [back to Calendar] [Today's next saint]