Ward's Book of Days.

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MAY 25th

On this day in history in 735, died the Venerable Bede.

Bede was a monk who wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People and so became the first British historian.

Nothing is known of Bede's parentage or his early life. All that is known is that, at the age of 7, he was taken to the Monastery of St. Peter, at Wearmouth by Abbot Biscop, to whose care he was entrusted. By 685, he was moved to Biscop's newer Monastery of St. Paul at Jarrow. He was ordained deacon when aged 19, and priest when 30. Apart from visits to Lindisfarne and York, he never left his monastery. We know this from a note he added to his final piece of writing.

Bede spent his life writing. His work was mostly biblical commentary, but he devoted some of his labour to essays on the reckoning of time. In all his works, his dates are reckoned from the birth of Christ, and so the method of dating BC and AD came into general use, through the popularity of his works. In his book, De temporibus, Concerning Time, he wrote his view of the cosmos, including a description of how the spherical earth influenced the length of daylight, and how the motion of the sun and moon influenced the appearance of the moon, and caused it to wax and wane.

His most significant work was Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which tells of the invasion of the Anglo-Saxon tribes and their eventual conversion to Christianity. It recorded events in Britain from the raids by Julius Caesar of 55-54 BC, to the arrival in Kent of St. Augustine, in 597 AD. Although his natural piety tends to dwell on alleged miracles, the accuracy of his work can be confirmed by other sources, and therefore is considered a trustworthy account of historical events. However, Bede’s dedication to Christian values tends to colour his accounts of the pagan Anglo-Saxon invaders, who overran the Christian Ancient Britons. He talks in terms of ‘invasion’, while now the coming of the Anglo-Saxons is seen as settlement from over populated lands, invited by a crumbling Roman Empire, to maintain stability. Nevertheless, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History remains the foremost authority on the Anglo-Saxon period.

Bede died on 25th May 735, and was buried at Jarrow. He became known as Venerable Bede due to a mistranslation of the Latin inscription on his tombstone, which stated ‘Here lie the venerable bones of Bede’. This was misinterpreted as ‘Here lie the bones of Venerable Bede’. Bede has the honour to be the only English person to be mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy, where he is placed in Heaven in the company of the doctors of the church (Paradiso X.130). In 1370, his remains were moved to Durham, and are now in the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral. [Durham Cathedral, Durham DH1 3JS]

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