Language and History English two-minute tales, music and mental agility puzzles
Anglo-Saxon Britain (410-1066)
St Bede and the Singing Stones : The Northumbrian monk is duped into wasting one of his beautifully-crafted sermons on a row of dumb rocks.
St Bede and the Singing Stones

Based on ‘The Golden Legend’, compiled by Jacobus de Voragine in 1275.

This story about St Bede from the 13th century ‘Golden Legend’ is not attested in earlier sources, and may well be an invention. On the other hand, it is a very good invention, and brings to life the profound words of William Shakespeare in ‘As You Like It’:

SWEET are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
I would not change it.

AS BEDE came to the end of his life, his eyesight started to fail. Yet he did not ease up in his duties, and with the help of a guide continued to make his rounds of the nearby villages, preaching in the open air to any who cared to attend.

It is said that one day, his guide led him — for whatever reason — to a place where there were many standing stones, but no people. Bede, peering good-naturedly, nonetheless embarked on a sermon of the kind for which he was so beloved: founded on long years of study, yet brief and easy to understand.

Whether Bede’s guide settled behind a cold stone, perhaps in the company of a small flask, or perhaps doubled up with laughter, the story does not tell. But if so, when the sermon ended he must have jumped out of his skin. For as Bede gave thanks to God, the standing stones, which hitherto had not spoken, chorused loudly:


* For a not dissimilar (but definitely fictional) tale, see Rudyard Kipling’s poem Eddi’s Service.

Based on ‘The Golden Legend’, compiled by Jacobus de Voragine in 1275.

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Lives of the Saints (94) Saint Bede of Jarrow (19) History (393) Northumbrian Enlightenment (30) Bible and Saints (109)

Picture: © Hayley Green, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
Duddo stone circle in Northumberland, a few miles southwest of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The circle of five stones, originally numbering seven, dates back four thousand years to the Bronze Age. We may romance that the stones which heard ST Bede’s sermon that day were just such a ring of pagan rocks, and that their ‘Amen!’ was a glad testimony to their release from millennia of superstition.
Based on an account by Saint Bede of Jarrow
Based on an account by Saint Bede of Jarrow

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