The Age of Bede.


The Age of Bede is a short anthology or selection of writings from the sixth and seventh century A.D. on the early Christian church in England. There are four parts:
  • Life of Cuthbert by the Venerable Bede.
  • Life of Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus.
  • Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow by the Venerable Bede.
  • The Voyage of St. Brendan.

Wall painting of Cuthbert at
Durham Cathedral (12th Century)
Life of Cuthbert by the Venerable Bede

Cuthbert is an Anglo-Saxon saint, born in 634 and died in 687. He is most associated with Lindisfarne (Holy Island) in Northumberland and Melrose in Roxburghshire on the Scottish Borders, both of which then were classed as Northumbria, and his feast day is 20th March. Chapter I begins,
The beginning of our account of the life and miracles of the blessed Cuthbert is consecrated by the words which the prophet Jeremiah uses of the state of perfection of the hermit: 'It is good for a man to have borne the yoke in his youth; he shall sit in solitude and be silent, because he will raise above himself'; for it was the sweetness of this way of life which led Cuthbert, in his earliest youth, to put his neck to the yoke of monastic discipline. Later, when the opportunity arose, he embraced the hermit's life and lived a long while in silence, pleased to forgo the speech of men for the delights of divine contemplation. To fit him for these tasks the grace of God urged him on, little by little, in the way of truth from his earliest years.
Bede goes on to give an account of his life, beginning with a warning he received as a child whilst he was young and playing with children by a three year old no less who told him, "How ill it befits you to play with children, you whom the Lord has marked out to instil virtue into your elders!" Bede then turns to certain miracles: on how Cuthbert sustained a knee injury and was cured by an angel, how he saved ships by changing the wind, and how he saw a vision of St. Aidan, the founder of Lindisfarne monastery who had died in 651. As Bede writes,
Immediately, therefore, he delivered over the sheep, which he was feeding, to their owners, and determined forthwith to enter a monastery.
From here Bede writes on Cuthbert's monastic life, travels, and miracles he witnessed and brought, and finally his death in 687, and how after nine years his body had not decayed:
Now Divine Providence, wishing to show to what glory this holy man was exalted after death, who even before death had been distinguished by so many signs and miracles, inspired the minds of the brethren with a wish to remove his bones, which they expected to find dry and free from his decayed flesh, and to put them in a small coffer, on the same spot, above the ground, as objects of veneration to the people. This wish they communicated to the holy Bishop Eadbert about the middle of Quadragesima; and he ordered them to execute this on the 20th of April, which was the anniversary of the day of his burial. They accordingly did so; and opening the tomb, found his body entire, as if he were still alive, and his joints were still flexible, as if he were not dead, but sleeping. His clothes, also, were still undecayed, and seemed to retain their original freshness and colour. When the brethren saw this, they were so astonished, that they could scarcely speak, or look on the miracle which lay before them, and they hardly knew what they were doing. As a proof of the uncorrupted state of the clothes, they took a portion of them from one of the extremities,-for they did not dare to take any from the body itself,-and hastened to tell what they had found to the bishop, who was then walking alone at a spot remote from the monastery, and closed in by the flowing waves of the sea. 
Even after his death, Cuthbert still was able to perform miracles and heal the sick.

'Rainbow Arch' of Lindisfarne Priory.

Stained glass window depicting Wilfrid (right),
Cuthbert (centre), and Aidan (left)
at the church of St. John Lee
in Acomb, Northumberland
Life of Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus

Eddius Stephanus is Stephen of Ripon, who is also known as Æddi Stephanus, and there is very little known about him other than the fact that he wrote the Life of Wilfrid (Vita Sancti Wilfrithi), a Northumbrian bishop (also known as Wilfrith) and saint. His feast day is 12th October.

Chapter I begins,
I shall now embark, with the help of God, on the holy life and merits of blessed Bishop Wilfrid, whom the Lord, in the words of that outstanding teacher St. Paul, 'foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified'. A sign from God proved that he was sanctified while still in the womb of his most pious mother, just as clearly as when the voice announced to Jeremiah: 'Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee: and before thou camest out of the womb I sanctified thee and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations'.
He describes how whilst in labour, his mother's house was on fire yet she safely gave birth to Wilfrid. He writes further on the life of Wilfrid, and how he joined Ripon (North Yorkshire) then Hexham (Northumberland) monasteries, and how he travelled from England to Rome to ask for the Pope's help having argued with local authorities. 

As with St. Cuthbert, St. Wilfrid performed miracles even after his death.

Hexham Abbey today. The monastery was founded by Wilfrid in 674, and parts of it survive with the abbey which itself
was built around the 11th Century.

Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow by the Venerable Bede.

In this the Venerable Bede writes on five abbots of the Monkwearmouth–Jarrow Abbey, a double monastery located on the River Wear (Tyne and Wear) and Jarrow (once County Durham until 1974 when it became Tyne and Wear; both areas were, in Bede's day, part of the Kingdom of Northumbria). The abbots are:
  • Benedict Biscop (c. 628 - 690), a saint and great lover of books.
  • Saint Ceolfrid (c. 642 – 716).
  • Eosterwine (650 -  686).
  • Sigfrid or Sigfrith (died 689)
  • Hwaetberht (died in the 740s). 

The monastery at Jarrow.

The Voyage of St. Brendan

St Brendan and the whale 
from a 15th-century manuscript.
The Voyage of St. Brendan (Navigatio Sancti Brendani) was written a little later than the other writings in this book, probably some time around the late 9th or early 10th Century. St. Brendan of Clonfert, or Brendan moccu Altae was an Irish monastic saint born around 484 and who died around 577, around 95 years before the birth of Bede. The Voyage of St. Brendan chronicles his journey from the coast of Kerry to the island of Paradise, as told to him by Saint Barrid and the trials he faced along the way.

It's a funny thing, I spent such a long time being apprehensive about reading Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People that I never thought I'd be eagerly seeking out more works by Bede afterwards. But I did, and like Ecclesiastical History I loved The Age of Bede. I thoroughly enjoy reading early Medieval works and this had the added bonus of being mainly from Northumberland, which is where I live and grew up, so from that angle it was good to read about the early history of Northumbria as well as the early saints of the 6th, 7th, and 8th Century. The Age of Bede is a great read, especially from a local history point of view. And, as I like reading about saints, I really must get a hold of Lives of the Saints at some point.


  1. Oo! I have this on my shelf! I'm going to read it....soon...

  2. Oh you! I'm trying to stay in Ancient Greece and you are pulling me towards Medieval works! I must resist. It sounds so interesting though. Once I finish up Herodotus. Thucydides, and some works by Plato and Aristotle, perhaps I'll be ready to move ahead. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Aristotle. Sigh. I need to not be online right now, I really need to at least make an attempt to read a bit of Ethics. It's getting beyond a joke :S I've got in my head I should finish Ethics before getting to Rhetoric (looking forward to actually) and Politics (which I am most looking forward to, in my ignorance no doubt!). And Plato hurts my brain! Just finished Gorgias. Very hard. Not enjoying 4th Century B.C.

      I'm thinking when I've finished my Ancient Greek / Romans (which certainly won't be this year or next year) I'll make a huge Medieval list. Until then I'll just read bits as they come. I'm hoping when I go book shopping tomorrow I'll find some Medieval lit...

  3. i've this on my shelf as well but have avoided it for probably not very good reasons; i admit to a certain amount of prejudice because of the religiosity, but shall try to overcome...

    1. I hope you like it. I enjoy the religiosity, but I do understand not everyone does! :)

  4. Lovely visuals...
    After reading The Story of Ireland
    I need to know more about 'The Age of Beade'.
    Thanks for the new saints for my list!

    1. You're welcome! I'll be interested to see what you make of Bede :)


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