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Basic Information

The Venerable Bede was an English monk and scholar who lived in the 7th and 8th Centuries. He is best-known for his book, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People), one of the earliest works of British history. He is the only native of Great Britain to receive the title of Doctor of the Church. His name was actually just "Bede". "Venerable" was a title given to him centuries after his death.

He was born around AD 673 on the lands of the monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth in Northumbria. At the age of seven, his parents sent him to the monastery of St. Peter to be educated. His guardian, the abbot Ceolfrith, founded a sister monastery in the neighboring town of Jarrow called St. Paul, and it is there Bede spent much of the rest of his career. At the early age of nineteen, Bede was ordained as a deacon and he became a priest around the year 702 at the age of thirty.

He wrote over 60 books in his lifetime on a wide variety of subjects: not only theological and historical, but also literary and scientific. He was interested in the calculation of the date of Easter, which had been the subject of a major controversy in the British church shortly before Bede's birth; and tried calculating the age of the earth, placing the date of Creation at 3952 BC. He understood the earth to be spherical and wrote on how the shape of the earth affects the changing length of daylight with the seasons.

Many of his works were intended to be textbooks for his abbey's schools, in subjects like grammar, orthography and rhetoric. Although much of his writing was in Latin, he also wrote in the English of his time. He also wrote many biblical commentaries and collections of homilies for liturgical use.

His most famous work, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, was a history of Britain from the time of Julius Caesar up to his own day, focusing on the development of the Christian Church in Britain. He corresponded with some of the most important ecclesiastic figures in England of the time and is believed to have traveled widely throughout the island. Unlike many early historians, Bede was careful to cite his sources and to use critical judgment in which sources he included. He was one of the earliest historians to extensively use the "Anno Domini" system to date events after the Incarnation of Christ. His book was very influential on later historians, and for all its omissions is still an important source of early Anglo-Saxon history.

Bede continued writing until his death on May 26, 735. He was in the process of completing a translation of the Gospel of John at the time. A disciple of his named Cuthbert records that he composed a poem on his deathbed.

Bede may have been married. In one of his works, Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, he wrote a passage stating: "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." In another commentary, he writes: "Formerly I possessed a wife in the lustful passion of desire and now I possess her in honourable sanctification and true love of Christ." Some scholars insist that he was merely employing a rhetorical device. Your mileage may vary.

Immediately after his death, Bede was not terribly well-known in England. He was better known on the Continent, where Saint Boniface used Bede's theological works in his efforts to convert the Germans and the scholar Alcuin of York brought them to the court of Charlemagne. In the 10th Century, a monastic revival occurred in England, and Bede's works returned to prominence. His body was stolen from Jarrow in around 1020 and moved to Durham Cathedral. He was the only Englishman mentioned in Dante's Paradise.

By the 9th Century, Bede was being referred to as The Venerable Bede. This is not because of any recognition by the Catholic Church —- Bede was not declared a Doctor of the Church until 1899 and was only declared a sanctus in 1935. According to legend, the monk carving the epitath on Bede's tombstone had left a gap in the inscription, which was miraculously completed by angels who added the word venerabilis to the stone.


Game and Story Use

  • In a historical or time travel campaign, the Venerable Bede could be an interesting person to encounter.
    • A group of drunken monks from Hexham have accused Bede of heresy for claiming a date for the Creation that differs from the official reckoning! Can you help Bede get out of hot water with the bishop?
  • Although his work was for the most part factual, Bede's history of England also included miracles which could make interesting story seeds.
  • Could there be a sinister motive behind the theft of his body?
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