Tyne Crossing #3
The Venerable Bede
A detailed look at the public art work decorating the hoardings and screens surrounding construction work at the new Tyne Tunnel crossing in Jarrow. Live in South Shields? Take a walk to Jarrow to see these fascinating panels near the Pedestrian Tunnel.
Beda 672-735 ad
Bede was born in 672 or 673 AD, probably in Monkton, Jarrow, Northumberland, and nothing is known of his parents. At the age of seven, he was entrusted to Abbot (St) Benedict Biscop of the monastery of St Peter in Wearmouth, near Sunderland, Durham. He’d moved with Biscop to the new monastery of St Paul in Jarrow by 685 and was ordained first as a deacon, aged 19, then as a priest aged 30. Records indicate that, apart from occasional calls on friends and visits to Lindisfarne and York, he remained there for the rest of his life.
For modern-day scholars, however, it is for his contribution to history that he is most valued. Although some of his works, such as the life of St Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, tended to be rather uncritical and relate as fact a somewhat improbable number of miracles, his Historia Abbatum (‘Lives of the Abbots’), a book of the lives of the abbots of England, is more typical and much more of a historical reference work. As a priest and a monk, scripture was taken as the supreme authority, but in most of his works he was inclined to explore and rationalise rather than accept unquestioningly. There is no doubt that his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum is a masterpiece by the standards of any age; it is regarded by modern scholars as the authoritative account of Christianity in England from its inception to Bede’s own time.
Bede was revered and beloved by his community, who kept vigil by his bedside during his final illness. He continued to pray and to work until the last moment; an account by one of his followers, Cuthbert, relates how he completed dictation of a translation of the Gospel of St John on the day of his death, Ascension Day, 735, after which he supposedly fell to the floor of his cell, sang the Gloria, and passed peacefully away. While this account may exhibit some poetic license, it seems likely that this prolific, profoundly religious man was exceptionally well thought of by his peers. He was buried at Jarrow, though his remains now rest in Durham Cathedral.
The title ‘Venerable’ began to be applied within a couple of generations of his death, as the influence and esteem of his writings spread. He was thus addressed by the influential Council of Aachen in 835, and this authority was cited in 1859 by Cardinal Wiseman and the English bishops when petitioning the Holy See for Bede to be created a Doctor of the Church doctor ecclesiastæ be celebrated each year on 27 May (since moved to 25 May).
His influence was and is great, and might have been greater still but for the Danish sacking of the monasteries of North Britain during the ninth Century.
Bede was, it is fair to suggest, the most learned man of his day in Britain, and quite possibly the world. Unusually, he was scrupulous in recording the sources of his information – and in asking those who copied and edited his work to preserve these references (a practice which they all too often failed to follow).
Camera details: Pentax K100D, 28 mm lens, 1/750 second, f6.7, iso 200