Keys to the Past


Symeon of Durham

Symeon was a further monastic historian like Bede. Symeon's life outside of the church is almost completely unknown. The style of his handwriting suggests he was born, and came to Durham, from northern France. As such he may have come to the notice of the William of St. Calais who, as Bishop of Durham, was exiled there (1088-1091AD) for treason. It is thought he came with William's restoration in the 1090s AD. Symeon is recorded as being present at the final moving of Cuthbert's bones in 1104AD, as supervisor of the scribes from 1115-1129AD and cantor (in charge of the singing) of Durham Cathedral in 1126AD. He died in 1129AD.

Symeon is best known for his History of the Church of Durham. This was written between 1104 and 115AD, most probably between 1104 and 1107/9AD. The work was written at the request of Symeon's superior - possibly the prior Turgot. As such, though giving much historical, this comments on (and justifies) many of the later events political and religious alike. The history also used an elaborate dating system of anniversaries for certain dates of particular importance - such as the founding of Lindisfarne in Northumberland, the ancestor of Symeon's Durham Cathedral. The history may have been used by Turgot to give allusions to the then un-popular Bishop Rannulf Flambard of Durham.

Symeon wrote or supervised other historical or biographical works. These included the gathered information called The history of the Kings and obits (commemorative biographies) for Flambard and Nigel d'Aubigny. Symeon was not alone in writing such biographies and histories in the 11th and 12th centuries AD, as Bede had been in the 7th and 8th. Symeon was asked to contribute to the York Minister 'school' of biographies being written about their archbishops. Ailred of Rievaulx, (see Cistercians), wrote of the abbots of Hexham following Saint Wilfrid. Symeon also wrote on political matters; he wrote of Durham's claims to the Carlisle (Cumbria) area - based on events in Cuthbert's life whose bones Durham held as relics, and an account of Bishop William's treason trial, (though much later).

The writings of Symeon were echoed elsewhere by other monastic houses - not just in the north of England, but elsewhere in William of Malmesbury and John of Worcester (in the southwest), as a way of self-defence against political change. Durham Cathedral at this time was more on the edge, (physically, politically and spiritually), than before and other places.

To explore more glossary entries click on a letter.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Z 1-9