Theologian, historian, and chronicler
born 672 or 673 died 735.
Bede also spelled Baeda or Beda
Known as Venerabilis or 'The Venerable'; a title formally confirmed at the Council of Aachen in 853.
He described himself simply as a Servant of Christ and Priest of the Monastery of Saints Peter and Paul which is at Wearmouth and Jarrow, and the sum total of our knowledge of his life is derived from he himself tells us in his preface to the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, and as it seems rather pointless to paraphrase, this is what he says;
at the age of seven I was, by the care of my relations, given to the most reverend Abbot Benedict, and afterwards to Ceolfrid, to be educated. From that time I have spent the whole of my life within that monastery, devoting all my pains to the study of the Scriptures, and amid the observance of monastic discipline and the daily charge of singing in the Church, it has been ever my delight to learn or teach or write.
In my nineteenth year I was admitted to the diaconate, in my thirtieth to the priesthood, both by the hands of the most reverend Bishop John, and at the bidding of Abbot Ceolfrid.
The only other fragment of information we have is from the Life of Ceolfrith which recounts how the plague came to Jarrow and killed every monk except Abbot Ceolfrith himself and one small boy. Once can only presume that in the cirumstances that small boy must have been Bede himself.
During his lifetime he seems to have been more celebrated for his biblical exegises or commentaries, the first of which was probably that on the revelation to St. John followed by commentaries on the whole of the Pentateuch, the books of Kings, Tobias, the Canticles, the gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke, Acts, the Epistles and the Apocalypse.
These days he is more famous for his historical works. He composed two chronological treatises, De temporibus liber and De temporum ratione which contained summaries of the general history of the world but which are primarily concerned with the computation of ecclesiatical time; and wrote the Historia Abbatum, the 'History of the Abbots', that is the abbots of the twin monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, as well as the Letter to Ecgberht, a critique of the contemporary Northumbrian Church.
But he is most noted for his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, the 'Eccelsiastical History of the English Church', which traces the development of Christianity within Anglo-Saxon England from its origins in the year 597 AD to shortly before Bede's own death in 735. This remains one of the most important source documents for the history of Britain in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. Without the assistance of this work we would next to nothing of the history of this period.
In many ways he was the first proper historian; methodically organising and quoting his sources and writing in a clear and elegant Latin which would not disgrace the classical stylists 1. His Historia was widely read throughout the Middle Ages and was translated into Old English at the orders of king Alfred who called it one of the books "most useful for men to know".
He also wrote a topogrophical description of Jerusalem and the surrounding holy places De locis sanctis" based on the similar works of Adamnan and Arculfus and a number of grammatical treatises such as De arte metrica and De orthographia
He was supposedly engaged in translating the the gospel of St John into Old English just before he died. After translating the final sentence he pronounced "There! It is finished."; placed his head in the hands of his pupil Wilbert, sang "Glory be the Father and to the Son and the Holy Ghost." and promptly died.
He was buried at the monastery of St Paul at Jarrow. Almost three centuries later in the 1020s, his bones were removed to Durham Cathedral where they were placed next to those of Cuthbert in the Choir.
In 1370 they were moved once again to a dedicated shrine in the Galilee Chapel which was destroyed during the Reformation, and the remains buried in a grave. In 1831 a new tomb was erected over this grave bearing the following inscription;
Christ is the morning star, who, when the night of the world is past, brings to his saints the promise of the light of life, and opens everlasting day.
1 A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain by Ann Williams, Alfred P. Smyth and D. P. Kirby (Seaby 1991)
The Catholic Encyclopedia at www.newadvent.org
A brief biography by James Kiefer at