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January 12th: the feast day of Saint Benedict Biscop

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Originally written on January 12, 2020. Updated 2023

January 12th marks the feast day of Saint Benedict Biscop (born about 628, Northumbria, died on Jan 12th 689/690).
He was the founder and first abbot of the monasteries of SS. Peter at Wearmouth, and Paul at nearby Jarrow, and he is famous for his adventures on the continent, for enriching Northumbria with holy treasures gathered abroad and as the father of Benedictine monasticism in England.
For istance, he made at least five journeys to Rome in his lifetime, which was quite a feat in the seventh century. Visits that enabled him to compile a remarkable collection of manuscripts, relics, and pictures with which he enriched his monasteries, so that they became one of the most influential centres of Christian scholarship and art in western Europe.
This was the beginning of a cultural and spiritual flowering that pollinated large swathes of northern Europe, and his most famous pupil was the none other than Bede, an English Benedictine monk well known as an author, teacher, and scholar, whose his most famous work, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, gained him the title “The Father of English History”. The fine library that Benedict assembled made possible the work of Bede and, indeed, Bede’s Historia abbatum (“Lives of the Abbots”) is the best source on Benedict’s life.

A thane of King Oswiu’s of Northumbria, Benedict renounced the worldly life in 653. In the same year, he ventured to Rome twice and then became a monk at Lérins where he took the name of Benedict.
He conducted (668–669) St Theodore of Tarsus, who had just been consecrated archbishop of Canterbury, to what is now England, then he was appointed abbot of SS. Peter and Paul, and made a fourth journey to Rome in 671 to receive instructions in monastic practices.
It was 674 when he built on land granted to him by King Ecgfrith of Northumbria the monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth. Alongside St Ceolfrith, prior and later his successor at Wearmouth, he went again to Rome c. 678, returning with an instructor in ecclesiastical music. In 682 he built the sister foundation of St. Paul at Jarrow, returning in 687 to Rome. Crippled, he remained bedridden until his death three years later, and It is said his relics were translated in 970 to the abbey of Thorney, Isle of Ely.

The mural pictured below includes ten scenes from the life of Benedict Biscop by iconographer Peter Murphy. The beautiful artwork was commissioned for Bede’s World Museum in Jarrow (now Jarrow Hall Anglo-Saxon Farm, Village and Bede Museum).

Images from web – Google Research

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