Sometimes people who have had an enormous impact on the lives of others are people for whom we do not have that much historical information. This sometimes applies to the saints, as well. Last week's postcard featured one such saint in St. Helena of Constantinople who was the mother of the Emperor Constantine. It also true of another influential saint who lived around three centuries after St. Helena.
Early Life and Raised in a Monastery
Bede was born in the year 673 in the town of Monkton which is located on the River Tyne in the northeast part of modern day England. There is very little information about his parents. The one certain piece of information about them is that when the young Bede was only seven years of age, his parents entrusted him to St. Benedict Biscop who was the founder and abbot of Wearmouth Abbey in Durham. The abbey, which was dedicated to St. Peter, was only about six years old when his parents would have made the journey from their home to Wearmouth. They would have given their son to the monks with the understanding that Bede would receive a fine education in preparation for a life as a monk.
In the year 685, when Bede would have been 12 years of age, he was transferred to another monastery dedicated to St. Paul that had also been established by Benedict Biscop. The monastery in Jarrow, which was about seven miles away from the Wearmouth Abbey, was headed by a man named Ceolfrith.
A word should be said about Benedict Biscop who it has been noted was himself canonized. He was of noble birth and spent most of his youth and early adult years serving in the court of the king of Northumberland. At the age of 25, Benedict left the world of court life to pursue a life as a monk. However, he first joined St. Wilfrid on a pilgrimage to Rome. It would be the first of six pilgrimages that he would make to Rome in his lifetime. On the second pilgrimage, he became a monk and received two years of training as a monk and took the name Benedict.
At the Monastery of St. Paul's
Under Abbot Ceolfrith, Bede continued his education. However, in the year 686 just a year after his transfer to the new monastery, the plague decimated the region including taking the lives of most of the monks. The account is described in the Life of Abbot Ceolfrith which Bede later wrote as a part of his larger work the Lives of the Abbots.
Without naming himself, Bede certainly provides a biographical note about his own life. Because the plague killed all of the choir monks who were able to perform the regular worship services, only the abbot and a young boy (undoubtedly Bede) remained to recite the offices. Abbot Ceolfrith made the decision to stop the regular practice and only recite and sing all of the psalms with antiphons except at Vespers and Matins.
After attempting to maintain this alteration for a week, the abbot could not bear it any longer and restored the previous practice of reciting the psalms with their antiphons. So the abbot and the young man maintained that practice until other monks were able to join or be trained to assist at the Divine Office. This story shows that the thirteen-year-old Bede was certainly precocious and able to perform the duties of a choir-monk despite his young age.
His Written Works and Influence
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