Alcuin bigraphy, stories - English scholar and abbot

Alcuin : biography

735 – 804

Alcuin of York ( c. 735 – 19 May 804), also called Ealhwine, Albinus or Flaccus, was an English scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher from York, Northumbria. He was born around 735 and became the student of Archbishop Ecgbert at York. At the invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court, where he remained a figure in the 780s and 790s. He wrote many theological and dogmatic treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and a number of poems. He was made Abbot of Tours in 796, where he remained until his death. "The most learned man anywhere to be found", according to Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne,Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, §25. he is considered among the most important architects of the Carolingian Renaissance. Among his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of the Carolingian era.


Secondary sources

  • Bullough, Donald. Alcuin: Achievement and Reputation. Leiden, 2003.
  • Bullough, Donald. "Alcuin." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


  • "O quam dulcis vita fuit dum sedebamus in quieti … inter librorum copias."
    ‘Oh how sweet life was when we sat quietly … midst all these books.’
  • "potius animam curare memento, quam carnem, quoniam haec manet, illa perit."
    ‘Remember to care for the soul more than the body, since the former remains, the latter perishes.’
  • "Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit."
    ‘And do not listen to those who keep saying, ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God.’ because the tumult of the crowd is always close to madness.’


In several churches of the Anglican Communion, Alcuin is celebrated on 20 May, the first available day after the day of his death (as Dunstan is celebrated on 19 May).

Alcuin College, one of the colleges of the University of York, England, is named after him.


Saint Alcuin (Alcuin of York) is considered as a saint by all the main branches of Christianity: Roman Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches. He was one of the most scholarly Christian saints. Saint Alcuin had a long career as a teacher and scholar, first at the school at York, founded in AD 627 (now known as St Peter’s School, York), and later as Charlemagne’s leading advisor on ecclesiastical and educational matters. From 796 until his death he was Abbot of the great monastery of St. Martin of Tours where he founded a library by obtaining copies of books from libraries in his native England. He wrote the grammatical rules for the Vulgate Latin spoken by some illiterates in Europe in his time. Alcuin of York was the most influential teacher in Europe as he set the basis of the syllabus for European schools.

The majority of details on Alcuin’s life come from his letters and poems. There are also autobiographical sections in Alcuin’s poem on York and in the Vita Alcuini, a Life written for him at Ferrières in the 820s, possibly based in part on the memories of Sigwulf, one of Alcuin’s pupils.


Alcuin was born in Northumbria, presumably sometime in the 740s.Bullough, Alcuin, p. 164. Virtually nothing is known of his parents, family background, or origin. In common hagiographical fashion, the Vita Alcuini asserts that Alcuin was ‘of noble English stock,’ and this statement has usually been accepted by scholars. Alcuin’s own work only mentions such collateral kinsmen as Wilgils, father of the missionary saint Willibrord; and Beornred, abbot of Echternach and bishop of Sens, who was more distantly related. In his Life of St Willibrord, Alcuin writes that Wilgils, called a paterfamilias, had founded an oratory and church at the mouth of the Humber, which had fallen into Alcuin’s possession by inheritance. Because in early Anglo-Latin writing paterfamilias ("head of a family, householder") usually referred to a ceorl, Donald A. Bullough suggests that Alcuin’s family was of cierlisc status: i.e., free but subordinate to a noble lord, and that Alcuin and other members of his family rose to prominence through beneficial connections with the aristocracy.Bullough, Alcuin, pp. 146–7, 165.Bullough, "Alcuin." If so, Alcuin’s origins may lie in the southern part of what was formerly known as Deira.Bullough, Alcuin, p. 165.