An important figure in the early history of the Christian church in north England, thanks to his importation of Roman ideas, Abbot Benedict was responsible for the monastery and library which produced the Venerable Bede
Saint Benedict Biscop, also known as Benet Biscop, originally Biscop Baducing.
Born: c.628, Northumbria.
Died: Jan 12 689/00, Wearmouth in Northumbria, UK.
Feast Date: January 12.
Finding His Vocation:
Born in c.628 to one of Northumbria's noble families, Biscop Baducing Benedict's original name initially served as a thane of the local king, Oswiu. In 653 he left this service and gave up his estate to persue an interest in the church, travelling to Rome's holy sites. Northern England's Christianity derived from Irish sources and the style of church Benedict found in Rome - which formed Europe's mainstream - was quite different but evidently to his liking, because he pledged himself to it.
Changing and Learning:
Benedict returned to Northumbria and, with a companion called Wilfrid, began promoting the Roman form of Christianity, contributing to the declaration of Oswiu in 664 which turned his kingdom from Irish to Roman forms. Benedict returned to Rome in 666 CE
before joining the monastery on Lerins, an island to the south of France; it was here that Biscop Baducing changed his name to Benedict. In 668 he returned to Rome, intending to further study the ways of Roman Christianity and Monasticism.
While in Rome Benedict was asked by the Pope to accompany Theodore of Tarsus to England: Theodore was both England's Archbishop and a Greek who'd never been to the island before. On their arrival in 669 Theodore appointed Benedict abbot of the Monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul in Canterbury, a position he held for two years before returning to Rome to learn yet more about Monastic practice and the mainland traditions.
After returning to Northumbria in 673, Benedict secured from Oswiu's successor King Ecgfrith permission to found a monastery in the kingdom and a large endowment to found it on. The monastery of St. Peter was begun in Wearmouth in 674, its very structure reflecting the years of continental tradition Benedict had absorbed. Masons and glaziers were hired from France to build a stone church in a Roman style, a sharp contrast to everything in a region which built used mainly timber to build.
A Benedictine rule was introduced and the books Benedict had collected in his travels formed the library, but this clearly wasn't sufficient for a man who had such experience. In 679 Benedict was back in Rome on a mission to equip his monastery with relics, art and quality manuscripts, as well as study vestments, practice and new ideas. He returned with, not only these resources, but Rome's head of liturgy to teach and privileges from the Pope.
Expansion And Death:
Benedict was back in England by 680. In 681 a second endowment from Ecgfrith enabled Benedict to found a twin house dedicated to St. Paul in Jarrow (also in Northumbria), prompting another journey to Rome in 682. This lasted four years and his return again enriched the houses with important manuscripts and knowledge. However, his health declined and he was bedridden from 686/687; never recovering, he died on January 12 690 CE.
Benedict's role in establishing the Roman church in northern England can't be underestimated. By importing continental ideas into, and creating a considerable library and art collection for, his monastery he transformed it into a focus for brilliant scholarship which enthused the region with new thought. Indeed, one of Benedict's earliest intake, Bede
, grew in these rich surroundings to become the period's greatest scholar, sending new ideas from England back into Europe.
Bede on Benedict:
One of Bede's works was 'The Lives of The Holy Abbots of Weremouth and Jarrow', a self-explanatory account which begins thus:
The pious servant of Christ, Biscop, called Benedict, with the assistance of the Divine grace, built a monastery in honour of the most holy of the apostles, St. Peter, near the mouth of the river Were, on the north side. The venerable and devout king of that nation, Egfrid, contributed the land; and Biscop, for the space of sixteen years, amid innumerable perils in journeying and in illness, ruled this monastery with the same piety which stirred him up to build it. If I may use the words of the blessed Pope Gregory, in which he glorifies the life of the abbot of the same name, he was a man of a venerable life, blessed (Benedictus) both in grace and in name; having the mind of an adult even from his childhood, surpassing his age by his manners, and with a soul addicted to no false pleasures. He was descended from a noble lineage of the Angles, and by corresponding dignity of mind worthy to be exalted into the company of the angels. Lastly, he was the minister of King Oswy, and by his gift enjoyed an estate suitable to his rank; but at the age of twenty five years he despised a transitory wealth, that he might obtain that which is eternal. He made light of a temporal warfare with a donative that will decay, that he might serve under the true King, and earn an everlasting kingdom in the heavenly city. He left his home, his kinsmen and country, for the sake of Christ and his Gospel, that he might receive a hundredfold and enjoy everlasting life...
An excerpt from 'The Lives of The Holy Abbots of Weremouth and Jarrow' by Bede, translated by J. Giles, available online at the Internet Medieval Source Book.