Bede

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Bede : biography

– 26 May 0735

Bede died on Thursday, 26 May 735 (Ascension Day) and was buried at Jarrow. Cuthbert, a disciple of Bede’s, wrote a letter to a Cuthwin (of whom nothing else is known), describing Bede’s last days and his death. According to Cuthbert, Bede fell ill, "with frequent attacks of breathlessness but almost without pain", before Easter. On the Tuesday, two days before Bede died, his breathing became worse and his feet swelled. He continued to dictate to a scribe, however, and despite spending the night awake in prayer he dictated again the following day. At three o’clock, according to Cuthbert, he asked for a box of his to be brought, and distributed among the priests of the monastery "a few treasures" of his: "some pepper, and napkins, and some incense". That night he dictated a final sentence to the scribe, a boy named Wilberht, and died soon afterwards.Colgrave & Mynors, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, pp. 580–587. Cuthbert’s letter also relates a five-line poem in the vernacular that Bede composed on his deathbed, known as "Bede’s Death Song". It is the most-widely copied Old English poem, and appears in 45 manuscripts, but its attribution to Bede is not absolutely certain—not all manuscripts name Bede as the author, and the ones that do are of later origin than those that do not.Donald Scragg, "Bede’s Death Song", in Lapidge, Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 59.Colgrave & Mynors, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, pp. 580–581, note. Bede’s remains may have been transferred to Durham Cathedral in the 11th century; his tomb there was looted in 1541, but the contents were probably re-interred in the Galilee chapel at the cathedral.

One further oddity in his writings is that in one of his works, the Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, he writes in a manner that gives the impression he was married. The section in question is the only one in that work that is written in first-person view. Bede says: "Prayers are hindered by the conjugal duty because as often as I perform what is due to my wife I am not able to pray."Quoted in Ward Venerable Bede p. 57 Another passage, in the Commentary on Luke, also mentions a wife in the first person: "Formerly I possessed a wife in the lustful passion of desire and now I possess her in honourable sanctification and true love of Christ." The historian Benedicta Ward argues that these passages are Bede employing a rhetorical device.Ward Venerable Baede p. 57

Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum

Bede’s best-known work is the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, or An Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in about 731. Bede was aided in writing this book by Albinus, abbot of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury. The first of the five books begins with some geographical background, and then sketches the history of England, beginning with Caesar’s invasion in 55 BC. A brief account of Christianity in Roman Britain, including the martyrdom of St Alban, is followed by the story of Augustine’s mission to England in 597, which brought Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons. The second book begins with the death of Gregory the Great in 604, and follows the further progress of Christianity in Kent and the first attempts to evangelise Northumbria. These ended in disaster when Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, killed the newly Christian Edwin of Northumbria at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in about 632. The setback was temporary, and the third book recounts the growth of Christianity in Northumbria under kings Oswald of Northumbria and Oswy. The climax of the third book is the account of the Council of Whitby, traditionally seen as a major turning point in English history. The fourth book begins with the consecration of Theodore as Archbishop of Canterbury, and recounts Wilfrid’s efforts to bring Christianity to the kingdom of Sussex. The fifth book brings the story up to Bede’s day, and includes an account of missionary work in Frisia, and of the conflict with the British church over the correct dating of Easter. Bede wrote a preface for the work, in which he dedicates it to Ceolwulf, king of Northumbria.Bede, "Preface", Historia Ecclesiastica, p. 41. The preface mentions that Ceolwulf received an earlier draft of the book; presumably Ceolwulf knew enough Latin to understand it, and he may even have been able to read it. The preface makes it clear that Ceolwulf had requested the earlier copy, and Bede had asked for Ceolwulf’s approval; this correspondence with the king indicates that Bede’s monastery had excellent connections among the Northumbrian nobility.