Something a little different: Last week I finished reading Venerable Bede’s ‘Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow’. (Anything written by Venerable Bede is worth reading.) So to honour these holy and wise men of God I’ll reflect upon what I have learned from them.
The version I have been reading was published by Penguin Classics under the title , ‘The Age of Bede’, and the translation of this particular work of Bede’s was done by D.H. Farmer.
The first thing that strikes me is the profound veneration of St Peter and St Paul, Princes of the Apostles, that runs through the early faith life of England. Of the twin monasteries, the one at Wearmouth was dedicated to St Peter and the one at Jarrow dedicated to St Paul. Both places are near the far north-east coast line of England.
The second thing that strikes me is their close relationship with Rome and with the Pope. Each abbot seems to have made the long and arduous pilgrimage to Rome at least once, and in St Benedict Biscop’s case several times. With each long pilgrimage to Rome the abbots and their companions brought back with them relics, sacred books- liturgical, theological and others useful in teaching, holy pictures, vestments and sacred vessels. Sometimes they brought back with them builders and craftsmen to build churches in the Roman style. Even more they brought back with them Catholic culture, hymns and chants, knowledge of how liturgy and rites were conducted in Rome, awakening in all the other monks the desire to visit the shrines of the holy apostles in the eternal city.
The final strking thing is the wisdom of these holy abbots in governing and in preparing for death. From the Popes of the time the holy abbots obtained permission to elect successors without outside interference. To preserve unity between the two monasteries, an abbbot was chosen to govern both, and chosen only from within their own membership. In his final years St Benedict Biscop suffered from insomnia and increasing frailty, so it was arranged that a brother monk would read to him from the Book of Job and small groups of monks would chant the psalms at his bedside, so that he could still join in the regular praise of God mentally as his powers of speech deteriorated. What wise men they were !
May the holy abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow intercede for us so that we, too, may gladly take our cues from the successors of St Peter in living out a life pleasing to God.
All holy abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, pray for us.