Keys to the Past



Bede is perhaps the best-known Northumbrian saint for his writings. Bede was born on lands belonging to Monkwearmouth (Tyne and Wear) monastery and left by his family at the age of seven. He therefore became monk, priest and deacon of the church - specialising in the study and translation of the many books the monastery had collected from abroad - at Monkwearmouth and the later founded Jarrow (also Tyne and Wear). Bede saw himself first as a commentator on The Bible first, though is best known for his historical writings. He wrote in Latin and Old English.

Bede's historical writings were chronicles of events and specialised biographies, called hagiographies, of religious figures. His major work The Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and People has given Bede the title 'Father of English History'. It deals with British history from Julius Caesar's raids, (see Claudius) to 731AD. Though there are problems of both coverage and detail, this is still a valuable source. Bede used local correspondents for places he could not get to, and used eye-witnesses where he could. Bede relied upon a wide selection of earlier authors. The Ecclesiastical History also has simplified events - though it was primarily a church history, not giving such prominence to political and social events as we might now.

Bede's biographies included two Lives of Saint Cuthbert - in verse (716AD) and narrative (720AD) styles, and the Lives of the Abbots of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow amongst others. A short autobiographical note was included in The Ecclesiastical History'. The Lives of the Abbots' is probably the most accurate - drawing on Bede's first hand knowledge of many of the subjects. Bede was associated with the two monasteries from seven to his death. Other subjects Bede wrote about were chapters in The Bible, Latin grammar, chronologies, on poetry and a list of feast-days (with biographical notes) of Christian martyrs.

Bede died at Jarrow and was originally buried there. However, bones reputed to be his were later moved to The Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral. An antiquarian investigation was made of his tomb in May 1831 by the cathedral staff, including James Raine. Objects were removed and a cast made of a skull, before reburial of the bones. Bede was canonised in 1899 - though he is usually referred to as 'The Venerable Bede'

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