Known as both Saint Bede and the Venerable Bede, this renowned scholar was a monk at the Northumbrian monasteries of Saint Peter at Monkwearth, England, and its companion monastery, Saint Paul’s at Jarrow where he spent the major portion of his life. His name comes from the old English word bede which means prayer.
Born in 672, Bede was sent by his parents to Saint Peter’s at the age of seven to be educated into what became his life-long vocation. He was ordained a deacon at nineteen and a priest at thirty.
He says of himself: “I have devoted my energies to a study of the Scriptures, observing monastic discipline, and singing the daily services in church; study, teaching, and writing have always been my delight.”
He was the first person to write scholarly works in the English language. Unfortunately, only fragments of his English writings have survived. He translated the Gospel of John into Old English, completing the work on the very day of his death.
Bede also wrote extensively in Latin. He wrote commentaries on the Pentateuch and other portions of Holy Scripture. His best-known work is his History of The English Church and People, a classic which has frequently been translated and is available in Penguin Paperbacks. It gives a history of Britain up to 729, speaking of the Celtic peoples who were converted to Christianity during the first three centuries of the Christian era, and the invasion of the Anglo-Saxon pagans in the fifth and sixth centuries, and their subsequent conversion by Celtic missionaries from the north and west, and Roman missionaries from the south and east. His work is our chief source for the history of the British Isles during this period. Fortunately, Bede was careful to sort fact from hearsay, and to tell us the sources of his information.
Bede also wrote hymns and other verse, the first martyrology with historical notes, letters and homilies, works on grammar, on chronology and astronomy – he was aware that the earth is a sphere. He is the first historian to date events Anno Domini, and the earliest known writer to state that the solar year is not exactly 365 and a quarter days long, so that the Julian calendar (one leap year every four years) requires some adjusting if the months are not to get out of step with the seasons.
Bede died on May 26, 735 and was buried at Jarrow. His body was moved to Durham Cathedral around 1020. A shrine dedicated to him was destroyed during the English Reformation but his bones were preserved and remain at Durham.
Bede’s scholarship and importance were recognized by the Roman church in 1899 when he was declared one of thirty-three Doctors of the Church. The tradition of his sainthood was affirmed by them in 1935. Both Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches venerate Bede with a feast Day on May 26.
And I pray thee, loving Jesus, that as Thou hast graciously given me to drink in with delight the words of Thy knowledge, so Thou wouldst mercifully grant me to attain one day to Thee, the fountain of all wisdom and to appear forever before Thy face.
For further reading on St. Bede the Venerable and his writings, follow the links below:
Bede, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book I, from Fordham University