St Bede of Jarrow (673-735) could claim to be one of founding Fathers of the English nation: his ground-breaking ‘History’ helped create a sense of national identity and Christian culture. Artistic yet scientific, jealous of Northumbrian sovereignty yet appreciative of European culture, he exemplifies all that is best in the English people.
THE church of St Peter in Monkwearmouth is all that remains today of a monastery founded in 674 by St Benedict Biscop, a local man who had studied abroad and was a frequent visitor to Rome.
The land was donated by Ecgfrith, King of Northumbria, and included the home of a Christian family with a one-year-old boy called Bede.
When he was seven, Bede was sent to the monastery school to be tutored by Benedict in Latin and Greek, astronomy, music and art. Two years later, he was taken to a new monastery school in Jarrow further north, and continued his studies under Abbot Ceolfrid.
Bede spent the remainder of his life at Jarrow. Although he did some travelling (he went to Lindisfarne and York) peasants, kings and monks such as Adamnán, who came to learn the Byzantine way of singing the liturgy, brought him news, while Benedict brought him books, music and icons from his journeys to France and Rome.*
* ‘Byzantine’ is a modern term, referring the Roman Empire from 330 to 1453, with its capital in Constantinople. It must be emphasised that Rome in Bede’s day was culturally Byzantine, with Greek-speaking popes and strongly eastern culture.