Our holy Father Bede the Venerable was born in the year 673 on the lands of the monastery of St. Paul at Jarrow in Northumbria. At the age of seven he was entrusted to the first abbot of Jarrow, St. Benedict Biscop, and after his repose to his successor, St. Ceolfrid. There is a tradition that during a plague that swept England during St. Ceolfrid's abbacy, only the abbot and the young Bede were left to chant the services.
At the age of nineteen Bede was ordained to the diaconate by St. John, bishop of Beverley, and to the priesthood by the same holy bishop when he was thirty years old. "From the time of my receiving the priesthood," writes Bede, "until my fifty-ninth year, I have worked, both for my own benefit and that of my brethren, to compile short extracts from the works of the venerable Fathers on Holy Scripture and to comment on their meaning and interpretation. And while I have observed the regular discipline and sung the church services daily in church, my chief delight has always been in study, teaching and writing." In addition to 25 commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, he wrote his famous Ecclesiastical History of the English People, several lives of the English saints, a Letter to Egbert (a long work to the archbishop of York, which may have stimulated the founding of the famous school of York) and other works. If his contemporary, St. Aldhelm, may be considered (with Caedmon of Whitby) the Father of English poetry, then the Venerable Bede must be considered the Father of English prose and history.
So successful was he in fulfilling this calling, that his works became the staple education of generations of Christians in the lands of North-West Europe. St. Boniface, the enlightener of Germany, wrote to England for copies of his works, and on hearing of his repose said: "The candle of the Church, lit by the Holy Spirit, is extinguished." And Alcuin, the abbot of St. Martin's at Tours, called him "the school-master of his age". Alcuin related that Bede used to say: "I well know that angels visit the congregations of brethren at the canonical hours. What if they should not find me there among my brethren? Will they not say, 'Where is Bede? Why comes he not with his brethren to the prescribed hours?"
St. Bede's last illness and blessed repose was described by Cuthbert, later abbot of Jarrow:- "He lived joyfully, giving thanks to God day and night, yea, at all hours, until the feast of the Ascension. Every day he gave lessons to us, his pupils, and the rest of the time he occupied himself in chanting psalms. He was awake almost the whole night and spent it in joy and thanksgiving. And when he awoke from his short sleep, immediately he raised his hands on high and began to give thanks. He sang the words of the Apostle Paul, 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God'. He sang much else besides from the Holy Scriptures, and also many Anglo- Saxon hymns. He sang antiphons according to our and his custom, and among others this one: 'O King of Glory, Lord of Power, who this day didst ascend as Victor above all the heavens, leave us not orphaned behind Thee, but send us the promised Spirit of the Father, Alleluia.' And when he came to the words 'leave us not orphaned behind Thee', he burst into tears. Then, an hour later, he began to sing again. We wept with him; now we read, then we wept; but we could not read without tears. Often he would thank God for sending him this illness, and would say, 'God chasteneth the son whom He loveth'. Often, too, he would repeat the words of St. Ambrose: 'I have not lived so as to be ashamed to live amongst you; neither do I fear to die, for we have a good Lord.' Besides the lessons which he gave us, and his psalm-singing during these days, he composed two important works - a translation of the Gospel of St. John into our native tongue [probably the first translation of the Gospel into any western language except Latin], and extracts from St. Isidore of Seville; for he said, 'I would not that my pupils should read what is false and after my death should labor in vain.'
"On the Tuesday before the Ascension his sickness increased, his breathing became difficult, and his feet began to swell. Yet he passed the whole night joyfully dictating. At times he would say, 'Make haste to learn, for I do not know how long I shall remain with you, and whether my Creator will not soon take me to Himself.' The following night he spent in prayers of thanksgiving. And when Wednesday dawned he desired us diligently to continue writing what we had begun. When this was finished we carried the relics in procession, as is customary on that day. One of us then said to him, 'Dearest master, we have yet one chapter to translate. Will it be grievous to thee if we ask thee any further?' He answered, 'It is quite easy: take the pen and write quickly.' At the ninth hour he said to me, 'Run quickly and call the priests of this monastery to me, that I may impart to them the gifts which God has given me. The rich of this world seek to give gold and silver and other costly things; but with great love and joy will I give my brethren what God has given me.' Then he begged every one of them to celebrate the Liturgy and pray for him. They all wept, mainly because he said that they would not see his face again in this world. But they rejoiced in that he said: 'It is time that I go to my Creator. I have lived enough. The time of my departure is at hand; for I long to depart and be with Christ.'
"Thus did he live till evening [the eve of the feast of the Ascension, May 26, 735]. Then the scholar [Cuthbert] said to him: 'Dearest master, there is only one sentence left to write.' 'Write quickly,' he answered. 'It is finished. Raise my head in thy hand, for it will do me good to sit opposite the sanctuary where I used to kneel and pray, that sitting thus I may call upon my Father.' So he seated himself on the ground of his cell and sang, 'Glory to Thee, O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit'; and when he had named the Holy Spirit he breathed his last."
Alcuin writes that miraculous healings were wrought at the relics of St. Bede, and that portions of them were taken to York, to Glastonbury and to Fulda in Germany, where they were placed in the crypt with St. Boniface. The rest of his body remained at Jarrow, where great numbers of pilgrims came to venerate it. In the early eleventh century, however, the priest Alfred Westow secretly took some of his relics to Durham cathedral, where they remain to this day. When his friends asked him where the bones of the Venerable Bede were, he would reply: "No one knows this better than I do. Dearly beloved, consider this a thing most firmly and most certainly established, that the same shrine which contains the most holy body of Father Cuthbert, contains also the bones of the teacher and monk Bede."
There are several stories about how St. Bede came to receive the title 'Venerable', which is first known to have been given him at the Council of Aachen in 836.
One of these stories tells that late in life Bede became almost blind. One day some jesters came to him and said that there were some people in the church waiting to hear the word of God. In fact there was no-one there except the jesters. So, ever anxious for the salvation of others, the saint went to the church and preached, not knowing that it was empty. When he had ended his sermon, he prayed, and, instead of a human response, he received one from the angels: "Amen, very Venerable Bede".
Holy Father Bede, pray to God for us!
By Vladimir Moss. Posted with permission.
(Sources: William Hunt, The English Church, London: Macmillan, 1912; Simeon of Durham, History of the Church of Durham; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon, 1978)
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