The life of Bede

Thanks to Bede we know quite a lot about Anglo-Saxon England.

Who was Bede?

Bede was a monk at the twin monasteries of St Peter in Wearmouth and St Paul in Jarrow. He was born in c. 673 and joined St Peter’s at the age of seven. After his schooling he moved to St Paul’s, where he stayed until his death in 735.

He devoted his life to learning and teaching. When offered the top job of Prior at Jarrow monastery, he refused because he wanted to focus on scholarship.

The ruins of Saint Paul’s Monastery Mark Smiles • CC BY-SA 2.0

Why is Bede famous?

Bede wrote a five-book history of England called The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. It starts with Julius Caesar’s invasion in 55 BC and ends in 731 AD.

We know that it was popular. Copies of the history circulated in Britain and Europe. 150 manuscript copies survive.

Bede’s history is a major source of information about Anglo-Saxon England in the 7th and early 8th centuries. The Ecclesiastical History was also used as a source by the writers of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 890.

Today The Ecclesiastical History is probably Bede’s most famous achievement. In his own time he was also well known for his many other writings. He wrote innovative commentaries on the Bible, on the lives of St Cuthbert, St Felix and St Anastasius, and on cosmology, calendars and the age of the Earth.

His work On the Reckoning of Time shows how to calculate the date of holy days and how to use different calendars. It was studied in schools throughout medieval Europe for centuries.

Why is Bede a saint?

Bede wrote The Ecclesiastical History to place the conversion of England into the wider story of the spread of Christian salvation. It was just one of his many writings on Christianity.

Bede became a saint in 1899 when Pope Leo XIII named him a Doctor of the Church. This title acknowledges Bede’s significant contribution to theological writing.


A complete list of works by Bede