Some of you may watch the popular TV series ‘The Last Kingdom’ which, although fictional, does fill in the gaps for many of us in our knowledge of the history of Anglo Saxon England. Another way to fill that gap is to read the history written by the ‘Venerable Bede’ whose feast day is today (in this parish we transfer to today the Dedication feast from yesterday, about which I wrote yesterday), sometimes seen as the father of English history writing.
St Bede was a monk in Northumberland (Wearmouth and Jarrow) in the seventh and eighth centuries. He is the only English born saint to be revered as a ‘Doctor of the Church’ (St Anselm was and he was Archbishop of Canterbury, but he was Italian; it is anticipated that St John Henry Newman will be so named in due course) He wrote a number of treatises and biblical commentaries, but he is best known for his ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ which is a major source for our knowledge of the efforts to re-evangelise this country from the time of Augustine’s mission in 597. Our own bishops have been keen in recent years that we should know more about this period so the great saints of Anglo Saxon England have been more prominent in the Church’s calendar.
A time of pandemic ought to teach us something about the importance of history – and of course it will be important that the history of this extraordinary period in the life of the world is told accurately and properly. Famously we usually don’t learn the lessons of history, and we have certainly seen that now. And most of us don’t know nearly enough about the history of the Church: there are fewer specialists around and knowledge, for example, about Anglo Saxon Christianity or (for Catholics) the ‘penal times’ is rather patchy (and in the case of the latter, worse than it was). Indeed mainstream history teaching in English schools has often been lamentable. Bede was an extraordinary man so it’s good as we honour him today to pray for historians.
Have a good bank holiday.
God bless and take care