Language and History English two-minute tales, music and mental agility puzzles
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Caedmon Learns to Sing (1) : A shy and unmusical stable-hand suddenly began to sing wise and moving hymns.
Caedmon Learns to Sing
Part one

Based on ‘History of the English Church and People’, by St Bede of Jarrow (early 8th century).

In 657, a monastery was founded in Whitby, in the Kingdom of Northumbria. It gave employment to several labourers, including an elderly stable-hand named Caedmon who would do anything to avoid singing.

THE farmhands on the estates of the monastery at Whitby liked a song in the evening, but whenever the harp looked like coming his way, Caedmon would slip out and go to bed in the stables.

On one such occasion, a man appeared in his dreams and greeted him. ‘Caedmon’ he said, ‘sing to me’.

Caedmon protested that he had left the company precisely because he could not sing, but his visitor insisted, saying: ‘Sing of the creation’.

Suddenly, Caedmon’s heart and tongue stirred with a song in his native English, of the Beginning of days.

Caedmon sang of the dawn of the world, praising Him who laid the measures of the earth, who stretched the line upon it, and fastened its foundations, and laid its corner stone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.*

When he awoke, he remembered his song, and more and more words kept coming unbidden to his lips.

* The original is lost: Bede makes it clear that his text is only a Latin précis of something much longer. A 9th century poem in alliterative verse, often described as Caedmon’s Song, appears to be a translation of Bede’s précis, rather than Caedmon’s original. What I have given here is a paraphrase based on Job 38, which is remarkably similar in sense and expression.

Based on ‘History of the English Church and People’, by St Bede of Jarrow (early 8th century).

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Saint Bede of Jarrow (19) Lives of the Saints (94) History (393) Music and Musicians (33) Anglo-Saxon History (44) Northumbrian Enlightenment (30) Yorkshire (5) Bible and Saints (109)

Picture: © Paul Buckingham, Geograph. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
The elegant stables at 18th-century Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland.
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Based on an account by Saint Bede of Jarrow
(672-735)

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