The Venerable Bede

During his lifetime, the Venerable Bede rarely left his home monastery at Jarrow, yet the influence of this humble monk from Northumbria was felt throughout Europe and continues across the world today.

"…it has always been my delight to learn or to teach or to write." Bede, around 731

Bede's Story

Most of what is known about Bede’s life comes from a short note at the end of his book The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written around 731. Nothing is known of his family, but he was born in about 673 near to the monastery of Wearmouth, and aged 7 was given to the monastery to be educated, as children often were at the time. His first teacher was Benedict Biscop, and then later he moved to the newly-founded monastery at Jarrow with Abbot Ceolfrith, where he would remain as a monk.

Bede rarely travelled from his monastery, but dedicated himself to study. Wearmouth-Jarrow was a renowned centre of learning, with one of the best libraries in Europe, and Bede was considered its finest scholar. During his lifetime Bede wrote or translated around 40 books, including commentaries, letters, hymns and poems, on subjects including religion, science, history, astronomy, mathematics and language.

Bede died as he lived – teaching and praying. He fell ill, but wanted to finish a translation of the Gospel of John, so continued dictating to a scribe. On the evening of 26th May 735, Bede gave his few possessions away to his fellow monks then, having dictated the final line of the text, sang praises to God, and died.

Bede and Durham

There are several stories about how Bede came to be buried at Durham Cathedral. The one most often told involves Alfred Westou, an 11th century monk whose duties included looking after the Shrine of Saint Cuthbert. Alfred wanted to bring the remains or relics of as many Northumbrian saints as possible to Durham. He was worried that the relics were not getting as much attention as they should where they were, and also hoped to bring more pilgrims to visit Durham and Cuthbert.

In around 1022 he visited Jarrow monastery, where Bede was buried. Alfred realised the monks there would not let him take Bede away, so he waited until he was alone in the church, then took the bones, hurrying home to Durham. Placing the bones in a linen bag inside Cuthbert’s coffin, Alfred told only a few close friends, swearing them to secrecy. Many years later, after Alfred’s death, the bag was found in Cuthbert’s coffin and its contents revealed as the remains of Bede.

…Bede lived hidden away in the extreme corner of the world, but after his death he lived on in his books and became known to everyone all over the world.”

Symeon of Durham, about 1107