Bede : biography
Bede ( ; 672/673 – 26 May 735), also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede (), was an English monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul’s, in modern Jarrow (see Monkwearmouth-Jarrow), both in the Kingdom of Northumbria. He is well known as an author and scholar, and his most famous work, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) gained him the title "The Father of English History".
In 1899, Bede was made a Doctor of the Church by Leo XIII, a position of theological significance; he is the only native of Great Britain to achieve this designation (Anselm of Canterbury, also a Doctor of the Church, was originally from Italy). Bede was moreover a skilled linguist and translator, and his work with the Latin and Greek writings of the early Church Fathers contributed significantly to English Christianity, making the writings much more accessible to his fellow Anglo-Saxons. Bede’s monastery had access to a superb library which included works by Eusebius and Orosius among many others.
Almost everything that is known of Bede’s life is contained in the last chapter of his Historia ecclesiastica, a history of the church in England. It was completed in about 731,Brooks "From British to English Christianity" Conversion and Colonization p. 5 and Bede implies that he was then in his fifty-ninth year, which would give a likely birth date of about 672–673.Colgrave & Mynors, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, p. xix.Campbell "Bede" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography A minor source of information is the letter by his disciple Cuthbert which relates Bede’s death. Bede, in the Historia, gives his birthplace as "on the lands of this monastery".Bede, Ecclesiastical History, V.24, p. 329. He is referring to the twinned monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, near modern-day Newcastle, claimed as his birthplace; there is also a tradition that he was born at Monkton, two miles from the monastery at Jarrow.Colgrave & Mynors, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, pp. xix–xx. Bede says nothing of his origins, but his connections with men of noble ancestry suggest that his own family was well-to-do. Bede’s first abbot was Benedict Biscop, and the names "Biscop" and "Beda" both appear in a king list of the kings of Lindsey from around 800, further suggesting that Bede came from a noble family. The name "Bede" was not a common one at the time. The Liber Vitae of Durham Cathedral includes a list of priests; two are named Bede, and one of these is presumably Bede himself. Some manuscripts of the Life of Cuthbert, one of Bede’s works, mention that Cuthbert’s own priest was named Bede; it is possible that this priest is the other name listed in the Liber Vitae. These occurrences, along with a Bieda who is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 501, are the only appearances of the name in early sources.Swanton Anglo-Saxon Chronicle pp. 14–15 The name probably derives from the Old English bēd, or prayer; if Bede was given the name at his birth, then his family had probably always planned for him to enter the clergy.
At the age of seven, he was sent to the monastery of Monkwearmouth by his family to be educated by Benedict Biscop and later by Ceolfrith. Bede does not say whether it was already intended at that point that he would be a monk. It was fairly common in Ireland at this time for young boys, particularly those of noble birth, to be fostered out; the practice was also likely to have been common among the Germanic peoples in England.Colgrave & Mynors, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, p. xx. Monkwearmouth’s sister monastery at Jarrow was founded by Ceolfrith in 682, and Bede probably transferred to Jarrow with Ceolfrith that year. The dedication stone for the church has survived to the present day; it is dated 23 April 685, and as Bede would have been required to assist with menial tasks in his day-to-day life it is possible that he helped in building the original church. In 686, plague broke out at Jarrow. The Life of Ceolfrith, written in about 710, records that only two surviving monks were capable of singing the full offices; one was Ceolfrith and the other a young boy, who according to the anonymous writer had been taught by Ceolfrith and was "now a priest of the same monastery". After a week of singing the psalms without the usual antiphons, Ceolfrith "could not bear it any longer", and the two managed to restore the usual service, "with no little labour". The young boy was almost certainly Bede, who would have been about 14.Plummer, Bedae Opera Historica, vol. I, p. xii.