Saturday, January 12, 2013

Benedict Biscop

Benedict Biscop & the young Bede [link]
The cleric and writer called the Venerable Bede has cropped up many times here; his learning is known to us by his translation of parts of the Bible, his work on the Reckoning of Time, on sciences, and the respect held for him by others. Let's use him again as our lead in to another topic, with the question: "Where did he acquire his learning?" The answer is in the library at the monastery at Jarrow, built by Bede's tutor.

Benedict was born into Northumbrian aristocracy about 628, and as an adult as a thegn loyal to King Oswy. About 653, Benedict agreed to travel to Rome with his friend, Wilfrid (later to be Saint Wilfrid the Elder). Although Wilfrid was detaind at Lyon, Benedict continued to Rome. Already a Christian, the trip to Rome and visits to sites connected to the Apostles made Benedict more fervent than ever about his faith. So when King Oswy's son Ealfrith wanted to go to Rome some years later, Benedict happily accompanied him. This time, he did not return to England, but stopped at Lerins Abbey on what is now the French Riviera, where he undertook to learn the life of a monk.

After two years of this, he boarded a merchant ship that was heading to Rome. On his third trip there, in 668, he was given the job by Pope Vitalian to go to England and be an advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus. Returning to England, Benedict introduced the construction of stone churches with glass church windows. He also became a proponent of Roman styles of Christian ritual, rather than the Celtic style that had developed in England and Ireland.

King Ecgfrith of Northumbria gave Benedict land for a monastery in 674; Benedict would found the Abbey of St. Peter in Wearmouth. He traveled to the continent to bring workers and glaziers to make a worthy monastery, and made a trip to Rome in 679 in order to bring back books. Other trips were made as well to provide books for the monastery. The monastery so pleased the king that Benedict was given more land for a second monastery in Jarrow, and this was to be called St. Paul.

These were the first ecclesiastical buildings in England to be made of stone, and together they held an impressive library of several hundred volumes—also unusual for a 7th century monastery. This is where Bede had access to the learning that allowed him to write his works. One of those works was the Lives of the Holy Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, in which he has this passage:
Not long after, Benedict himself was seized by a disease. [...] Benedict died of a palsy, which grew upon him for three whole years; so that when he was dead in all his lower extremities, his upper and vital members, spared to show his patience and virtue, were employed in the midst of his sufferings in giving thanks to the Author of his being, in praises to God, and exhortations to the brethren.
Benedict Biscop (pronounced "bishop") died on 12 January, 690.

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