Æthelbert of York bigraphy, stories - Archbishop of York

Æthelbert of York : biography

- 780

Æthelbert (or Æthelberht, Aethelberht, Adalberht, Ælberht, Aelberht, Aldbert or Ethelbert; died 8 November 780) was an eighth century scholar, teacher, priest and Archbishop of York.


Æthelbert, was the teacher and intimate friend of Alcuin, whose poem on the saints and prelates of the Church of York, De Sanctis et Pontificibus Ecclesiæ Eboracensis, is the principal source of information concerning Æthelbert's life.Rollason "" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography He was a kinsman of his predecessor Archbishop Ecgbert, brother to Eadberht, King of Northumbria and a pupil in the school founded at York by Ecgbert, who ordained him priest and made him master of the school.Duckett Alcuin pp. 19-22 Alcuin's affectionate eulogy praised his erudition in grammar, rhetoric, law, poetry, astronomy, natural history, and Scripture, and his stern but supportive nature.

Æthelbert loved books ardently and spared no pains in forming a library at York,Hindley A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons p. 152 which was probably the largest contemporary collection of books to be found in Europe outside of Rome. Alcuin mentions several Latin and Greek classical authors, as well as the Fathers and other Christian writers that formed the 8th century canon. Æthelbert, in his search for books, travelled far, and we know that he visited Rome among other places. He taught both the trivium as well as the quadrivium, plus how to figure the dates of church festivals and natural science.

In 766 Æthelbert succeeded Ecgbert as archbishop; he was consecrated 24 April 767,Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 224 and received his pallium from Pope Adrian I in 773. As archbishop he continued his simple and laborious life, working with such success that he is regarded as one of the founders of the diocese of York.

Æthelbert set himself to rebuild the York Minster, which had been destroyed by fire in 741, employing Eanbald and Alcuin to oversee the work.Duckett Alcuin p. 27 Alcuin speaks of its magnificence, its columns and crypts, bright windows and ceilings, the tall crucifix of precious metals, the thirty altars it contained, and the gold, silver, and jewels employed in the decoration of sacred vessels and altars.

From the center of learning at York, Æthelbert sent out preachers and evangelising teachers among the pagans of Northern Europe: Alubert and Liudger, missionaries in northern Germany.Duckett Alcuin p. 31

In 774, Æthelbert called a council which deposed Alhred, king of Northumbria and sent the ex-king into exile with the Picts. The cause of the deposition may have been related to the missionary work.Ashely Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens pp. 291-292 The historian D. P. Kirby feels that Æthelbert was not a supporter of Alhred prior to his deposition. Alhred was replaced with Æthelred, who was replaced in 778 by Ælfwald, the son of Oswulf. Kirby sees Æthelbert's withdrawal of support as instrumental in the deposition of Aethelred, noting that Aelfwald was closely related to Ethelbert, unlike both Alhred and Aethelred.Kirby Earliest English Kings pp. 127–129 Kirby also notes that medieval chroniclers noted that Ethelbert is said to have not "spared evil kings".Kirby Earliest English Kings p. 128

In 780 Æthelbert consecrated Eanbald as his coadjutor bishop and committed to Alcuin the care of the school and library and retired to a cell where he spent some time in devotion.Duckett Alcuin p. 32 He lived long enough to consecrate the new cathedral, ten days before his death on 8 November.Duckett Alcuin p. 34 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, however, gives the year of his death at 781.


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