The Ecclesiastical History of the English People

by

The Venerable Bede

The Venerable Bede

Taken from the Oxford University Press edition, first published 1969

Original completed in 731 A.D.

Extracts relating to Ireland

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Book 1: Chapter 1

At the present time, there are five languages in Britain, just as the divine law is written in five books, all devoted to seeking out and setting forth one and the same kind of wisdom, namely the knowledge of sublime truth and of true sublimity. These are the English, British, Irish, Pictish, as well as the Latin languages; through the study of the scriptures, Latin is in general use among them all. To begin with, the inhabitants of the island were all Britons, from whom it receives its name; they sailed to Britain, so it is said, from the land of Armorica, and appropriated to themselves the southern part of it. After they had got possession of the greater part of the island, beginning from the south, it is related that the Pictish race from Scythia sailed out into the ocean in a few warships and were carried by the wind beyond the furthest bounds of Britain, reaching Ireland and landing on its northern shores. There they found the Irish race and asked permission to settle among them but their request was refused. Now Ireland is the largest island of all next to Britain, and lies to the west of it. But though it is shorter than Britain to the north, yet in the south it extends far beyond the limits of that island and as far as the level of North Spain, though a great expanse of sea divides them. The Picts then came to this island, as we have said, by sea and asked for the grant of a place to settle in. The Irish answered that the island would not hold them both; ‘but’, said they, ‘we can give you some good advice as to what to do. We know of another island not far from our own, in an easterly direction. If you will go there, you can make a settlement for yourselves; but if any one resists you, make use of our help.’ And so the Picts went to Britain and proceeded to occupy the northern parts of the island, because the Britons had seized the southern regions. As the Picts had no wives, they asked the Irish for some; the latter consented to give them women, only on condition that, in all cases of doubt, they should elect their kings from the female royal line rather than the male; and it is well known that the custom had been observed among the Picts to this day. In course of time Britain received a third tribe in addition to the Britons and the Picts, namely the Irish. These came from Ireland under their leader Reuda, and won lands among the Picts either by friendly treaty or by the sword. These they still possess. They are still called Dalreudini after this leader, Dal in their language signifying a part.

Ireland is broader than Britain, is healthier and has a much milder climate, so that snow rarely lasts for more than three days. Hay is never cut in summer for winter use nor are stables built for their beasts. No reptile is found there nor could a serpent survive; for although serpents have often been brought from Britain, as soon as the ship approaches land they are affected by the scent of the air and quickly perish. In fact almost everything that the island produces is efficacious against poison. For instance we have seen how, in the case of people suffering from snake-bite, the leaves of manuscripts from Ireland were scraped, and the scrapings put in water and given to the sufferer to drink. These scrapings at once absorbed the whole violence of the spreading poison and assuaged the swelling. The island abounds in milk and honey, nor does it lack vines, fish, and birds. It is also noted for the hunting of stags and roe-deer. It is properly the native land of the Irish; they emigrated from it as we have described and so formed the third nation in Britain in addition to the Britons and the Picts. There is a very wide arm of the sea which originally divided the Britons from the Picts. It runs far into the land from the west. Here there is to this day a very strongly fortified British town called Alcluith (Dumbarton). The Irish whom we have mentioned settled to the north of this arm of the sea and made their home there.

Book 1: Chapter 12

From that time Britain, or the British part of it, which had been stripped of all its armed men, its military supplies, and the whole flower of its active youth, who by the rashness of the dictators, had been led away never to return, lay wholly exposed to plunderers and the more so because the people were utterly ignorant of the practice of warfare. For instance, they were rapidly reduced to a state of terror and misery by two extremely fierce races from over the waters, the Irish from the west and the Picts from the north; and this lasted many years. We call them races from over the waters, not because they dwelt outside Britain but because they were separated from the Britons by two wide and long arms of the sea, one of which enters the land from the east, the other from the west, although they do not meet. Half way along the eastern branch is the city of Giudi, while above the western branch, that is on its right bank, is the town of Alcluith (Dumbarton), a name which in their language means ‘Clyde Rock’ because it stands near the river of that name.

As a result of these invasions, the Britons sent messengers to Rome bearing letters with tearful appeals for aid, promising to be their subjects for ever, if only they would drive away their threatening foes. An armed legion was quickly dispatched to them which duly reached the island, attacked the enemy, destroying a great number of them and driving the rest from the territories of their allies. When the Romans had freed them from their dire distress, they urged the Britons to build a wall across the island from sea to sea, as a protection against their foes. And so the legion returned home in great triumph. The islanders built the wall, as they had been bidden to do, but they made it, not of stone, since they had no skill in work of this kind, but of turves, so that it was useless. They built many miles of it between the two channels or arms of the sea already mentioned, so that where there was no water to shield them, the protecting wall might defend their borders from enemy incursions. The clearest traces of the work constructed there, in the form of a very wide and high wall, can be seen to this day. It starts almost two miles west of the monastery of Aebbercurnig (Abercorn) in the place which the Picts call Peanfahel, while in English it is called Penneltun (Kinneil). It stretches westward as far as Alcluith (Dumbarton).

But as soon as their former foes saw the Roman soldiers depart, they took ship and broke into their borders, felling, trampling, and treading down everything they met, like reapers mowing ripe corn. Once more envoys were sent to Rome with pitiful appeals for help so that their wretched country might not be utterly destroyed, and the name of a Roman province, long renowned amongst them, might not be obliterated and disgraced by the barbarity of foreigners. Once again a legion was sent, which arrived unexpectedly in the autumn and did great destruction amongst the enemy, while all who succeeded in escaping were driven across the waters; before this they had been accustomed to carry off their booty every year across the same waters without any opposition. Then the Romans informed the Britons that they could no longer be burdened with such troublesome expeditions for their defence; they advised them to take up arms themselves and make an effort to oppose their foes, who would prove too powerful for them only if they themselves were weakened by sloth. Moreover, thinking that it might be some help to their allies who they were compelled to abandon, they built a strong wall of stone from sea to sea in a straight line between the fortresses which had been built there for fear of the enemy, on the site which Severus had once made his rampart. So, at public and private expense and with the help of the Britons, they made a famous wall which is still to be seen. It is eight feet wide and twelve feet high, running in a straight line from east to west, as is plain for all to see even to this day. When it was complete they gave some heartening advice to this sluggish people and showed them how to make themselves weapons. In addition they built lookout towers at intervals along the shores of the Ocean to the south, where their ships plied and where there was fear of barbarian attacks. And so they took leave of their allies never to return.

After the Romans had gone back to their own land, the Irish and Picts, who knew they were not to return, immediately came back themselves and, becoming bolder than ever, captured the whole of the northern and farthest portion of the island as far as the wall, driving out the natives. There the Britons deployed their dispirited ranks along the top of the defence and, day and night, they moped with dazed and trembling hearts. On the other hand the enemy with hooked weapons never ceased from their ravages. The cowardly defenders were wretchedly dragged from the walls and dashed to the ground. In short, they deserted their cities, fled from the wall, and were scattered. The enemy pursued and there followed a massacre more bloodthirsty than ever before. The wretched Britons were torn in pieces by their enemies like lambs by wild beasts. They were driven from their dwellings and their poor estates; they tried to save themselves from the starvation which threatened them by robbing and plundering each other. Thus they increased their external calamities by internal strife until the whole land was left without food and destitute expect for such relief as hunting brought.

Book 1: Chapter 14

Meanwhile this famine, which left to posterity a lasting memory of its horrors, afflicted the Britons more and more. It compelled many of them to surrender to the plundering foe; others, trusting in divine aid when human help failed them, would never give in but continued their resistance, hiding in mountains, caves, and forests. At last they began to inflict severe losses on the enemy who had been plundering their land for many years. So the shameless Irish robbers returned home, intending to come back before long, while the Picts, from that time on, settled down in the furthest part of the island, though they did not cease to plunder and harass the Britons occasionally.

Book 1: Chapter 34

At this time Æthelfrith, a very brave king and most eager for glory, was ruling over the kingdom of Northumbria. He ravaged the Britons more extensively than any other English ruler. He might indeed by compared with Saul who was once king of Israel, but with this exception, that Æthelfrith was ignorant of the divine religion. For no ruler or king had subjected more land to the English race or settled it, having first either exterminated or conquered the natives. To him, in the character of Saul, could fittingly be applied the words which the patriarch said when he was blessing his son, ‘Benjamin shall ravin as the wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey and at night shall divide the spoil.’ For this reason Aedan, king of the Irish living in Britain, aroused by the successes, marched against him with an immensely strong army; but he was defeated and fled with few survivors. Indeed, almost all his army was cut to pieces in a very famous place called Degsastan, that is the stone of Degsa. In this fight Theobald, Æthelfrith’s brother, was killed together with all his army. Æthelfrith brought his war to an end in the year of our Lord 603, and the eleventh year of his reign, which lasted for twenty-four years. It was also the first year of the reign of Phocas who was then Roman emperor. From that time no Irish king in Britain has dared to make war on the English race to this day.

Book 2: Chapter 19

Pope Honorius also wrote a letter to the Irish race, whom he had found to have erred over the keeping of Easter, as we explained above, urging them with much shrewdness not to consider themselves, few as they were and placed on the extreme boundaries of the world, wiser than the ancient and modern Churches of Christ scattered throughout the earth; nor should they celebrate a different Easter contrary to the paschal tables and the decrees of the bishops of all the world met in synod.

But John who succeeded Severinus, the successor of Honorius, while he was yet pope-elect, sent them a letter of great authority and learning to correct the error; he showed clearly that Easter Sunday ought to be looked for between the fifteenth and twenty-first day of the moon, as was approved in the Synod of Nicaea. He took care to warn them, in the same letter, to guard against the Pelagian heresy and reject it, for he had been informed that there was a revival of it in their midst; this is the beginning of the letter:

To our well-beloved and holy Tómine, Columban, Crónán, Ernene, Laisréne, Sillan and Ségéne, priests; to Saran and the other Irish teachers and abbots; Hilarus the archpriest and viceregent of the holy apostolic see; also John the deacon and pope-elect in the name of the Lord, and John, chief secretary and viceregent of the holy apostolic see, and John, servant of God and counsellor of the same.

The writings which were brought by envoys to Pope of holy memory, were left with the questions contained in them unanswered when he departed this life. These were re-opened so that no obscurity should remain uncleared in questions of such import and we discovered that certain men of your kingdom were attempting to revive a new heresy out of an old one and, befogged with mental blindness, to reject our Easter in which Christ was sacrificed for us, contending with the Hebrews that it should be celebrated on the fourteenth day of the moon.

At the beginning of this letter it is clearly asserted that this heresy had sprung up among them very recently and that not all the race but only certain of them were implicated in it.

After they had explained the method of observing Easter they added this in the same letter about the Pelagians:

And this also we have learnt that the poison of the Pelagian heresy has of late revived amongst you; we therefore exhort you utterly to put away this kind of poisonous and criminal superstition from your minds. You cannot be unaware that this execrable heresy has been condemned; and not only has it been abolished for some two hundred years but it is daily condemned by us and buried beneath our perpetual ban. We exhort you then not to rake up the ashes amongst you of those whose weapons have been burnt. For who can fail to execrate the proud and impious attempt of those who say that a man can live without sin and that, not by the grace of God, but by his own will? In the first place it is foolish and blasphemous to say that any man is without sin: it is impossible except for that one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who was conceived and brought forth without sin. For all other men were born with original sin and are known to bear the mark of Adam’s transgression, even though they are without actual sin, in accordance with the prophet’s words: ‘Behold, I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother bring me forth.’

Book 3: Chapter 1

During the whole of Edwin’s reign the sons of King Æthelfrith his predecessor, together with many young nobles, were living in exile among the Irish or the Picts where they were instructed in the faith as the Irish taught it and were regenerated by the grace of baptism. On the death of their enemy King Edwin they were allowed to return to their own land, and the eldest of them, Eanfrith, as we have said, became king of the Bernicians. But no sooner had these two kings gained the sceptres of their earthly kingdom than they abjured and betrayed the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom to which they had been admitted and reverted to the filth of their former idolatry, thereby to be polluted and destroyed.

Book 3: Chapter 3

Oswald, as soon as he had come to the throne, was anxious that the whole race under his rule should be filled with the grace of the Christian faith of which he had had so wonderful an experience in overcoming the barbarians. So he sent to the Irish elders among whom he and his thegns had received the sacrament of baptism when he was in exile. He requested them to send a bishop by whose teaching and ministry the English race over whom he ruled might learn the privileges of faith in our lord and receive the sacraments. His request was granted without delay. They sent him Bishop Aidan, a man of outstanding gentleness, devotion, and moderation, who had a zeal for God though not entirely according to knowledge. For after the manner of his race, as we have very often mentioned, he was accustomed to celebrate Easter Sunday between the fourteenth and the twentieth day of the moon. The northern province of the Irish and the whole nation of the Picts were still celebrating Easter Sunday according to this rule right up to that time, thinking that in this observance they were following the writings of the esteemed and holy father, Anatolius. Every instructed person can very easily judge whether this is true or not. But the Irish peoples who lived in the southern part of Ireland had long before learned to observe Easter according to canonical custom, through the teaching of the pope.

On the bishop’s arrival, the king gave him a place for his Episcopal see on the island of Lindasfarne, in accordance with his wishes. As the tide ebbs and flows, this place is surrounded twice daily by the waves of the sea like an island and twice, when the shore is left dry, it becomes again attached to the mainland. The king humbly and gladly listened to the bishop’s admonitions in all matters, diligently seeking to build up and extend the Church of Christ in his kingdom. It was indeed a beautiful sight when the bishop was preaching the gospel, to see the king acting as interpreter of the heavenly world for his ealdormen and thegns, for the bishop was not completely at home in the English tongue, while the king had gained a perfect knowledge of Irish during the long period of his exile.

From that time, as the days went by, many came from the country of the Irish into Britain and to those English kingdoms over which Oswald reigned, preaching the word of faith with great devotion. Those of them who held the rank of priest administered the grace of baptism to those who believed. Churches were built in various places and the people flocked together with joy to hear the Word; lands and property of other kinds were given by royal bounty to establish monasteries, and English children, as well as their elders, were instructed by Irish teachers in advanced studies and in the observance of the discipline of a Rule.

Indeed they were mostly monks who came to preach. Bishop Aidan was himself a monk; he was sent from the island known as Iona, whose monastery was for a very long time chief among all the monasteries of the northern Irish and the Picts, exercising supervision over their communities. The island itself belongs to  Britain and is separated from the mainland by a narrow strait, but the Picts who inhabit those parts of Britain gave it to the Irish monks long ago, because they had received the faith of Christ through the monks’ preaching.

Book 3: Chapter 4

In the year of our Lord 565, when Justin the second took over the control of the Roman Empire after Justinian, there came from Ireland to Britain a priest and abbot named Columba, a true monk in life no less than habit;  he came to Britain to preach the word of God to the kingdoms of the northern Picts which are separated from the southern part of their land by steep and rugged mountains. The southern Picts who live on this side of the mountains had, so it is said, long ago given up the errors of idolatry and received the true faith through the preaching of the Word by that revered and holy man Bishop Ninian, a Briton who had received orthodox instruction at Rome in the faith and the mysteries of the truth. His episcopal see is celebrated for its church, dedicated to St Martin where his body rests, together with those of many other saints. The see is now under English rule. This place which is in the kingdom of Bernicia is commonly called Whithorn, the White House, because Ninian built a church of stone there, using a method unusual among the Britons.

Columba came to Britain when Bridius the son of Malcolm, a most powerful king, had been ruling over the Picts for over eight years. Columba turned them to the faith of Christ by his words and example and so received the island of Iona from them in order to establish a monastery there. It is not a large island, being only about five hides in English reckoning. His successors hold it to this day and he himself was buried there at the age of seventy-seven, about thirty-two years after he came to Britain to preach. Before this he had founded a famous monastery in Ireland called Dearmach (Durrow), the Field of the Oaks, on account of the great number of oaks there. From both of these sprang very many monasteries which were established by his disciples in Britain and Ireland, over all of which the island monastery in which his body lies held pre-eminence.

This island always had an abbot for its ruler who is a priest, to whose authority the whole kingdom, including even bishops, have to be subject. This unusual arrangement follows the example of their first teacher, who was not a bishop but a priest and monk. Some written records of his life and teachings are said to have been preserved by his disciples. Whatever he was himself, we know this for certain about him, that he left successors distinguished for their great abstinence, their love of God, and their observance of the Rule. It is true that they used tables of doubtful accuracy in fixing the date of the chief festival, since they were so far away at the ends of the earth that there was none to bring them the decrees of the synods concerning the observance of Easter; but they diligently practised such works of religion and chastity as they were able to learn from the words of the prophets, the evangelists, and the apostles. This reckoning of Easter persisted among them for a very long time, no less than 150 years, up to the year of our Lord 715.

At that time the greatly revered and holy father and priest Egbert, an Englishman, came to them. He had long lived in exile in Ireland for the sake of Christ and was most learned in the scriptures, being famous for his long and holy life; he set them right and brought them to observe the true and canonical Easter Day. They did not always observe it on the fourteenth day of the moon, with the Jews, as some believe, but they celebrated it always on the Sunday, thought not in the proper week. Being Christians they knew that the resurrection of our Lord, which happened on the first day after the Sabbath, must always be celebrated on the day; but, rude barbarians as they were, they had never learned when that particular first day after the Sabbath which we now call the Lord’s Day, should come. But because they were not lacking in grace and fervent love, they were accounted worthy to gain full knowledge on this subject also, even as the apostle had promised, saying, ‘And if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal it unto you.’ But we must speak more fully about this matter later on in its proper place.

Book 3: Chapter 5

Such was the island, such the community, from which Aidan was sent to give the English people instruction in Christ after he had been consecrated bishop during the abbacy of the priest Ségéne. Aidan taught the clergy many lessons about the conduct of their lives but above all he left them a most salutary example of abstinence and self-control; and the best recommendation of his teaching to all was that he taught them no other way of life than that which he himself practised among his fellows. For he neither sought after nor cared for worldly possessions but he rejoiced to hand over at once, to any poor man he met, the gifts which he had received from kings or rich men of the world. He used to travel everywhere, in town and country, not on horseback but on foot, unless compelled by urgent necessity to do otherwise, in order that, as he walked along, whenever he saw people whether rich or poor, he might at once approach them and, if they were unbelievers, invite them to accept the mystery of the faith; or, if they were believers, that he might strengthen them in the faith, urging them by word and deed to practise almsgiving and good works.

Aidan’s life was in great contrast with our modern slothfulness; all who accompanied him, whether tonsured or laymen, had to engage in some form of study that is to say, to occupy themselves either with reading the scriptures or learning the psalms. This was the daily task of Aidan himself and of all who were with him, wherever they went. And if it happened, as it rarely did, that he was summoned to feast with the king, he went with one or two of his clergy, and, after taking a little food, he hurried away either to read with his people or to pray. At that time a number of men and women, instructed by his example, formed the habit of prolonging their fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, until the ninth hour, with the exception of the period between Easter and Pentecost. Neither respect nor fear made him keep silence about the sins of the rich, but he would correct them with a stern rebuke. He would never given money to powerful men of the world but only food on such occasions as he entertained them; on the contrary he distributed gifts of money which he received from the rich, either, as we have said, for the use of the poor or the redemption of those who had been unjustly sold into slavery. In fact, many of those whom he redeemed for a sum of money he afterwards made his disciples and, when he had trained and instructed them, he ordained them priests.

The story goes that when King Oswald asked the Irish for a bishop to minister the word of faith to him and his people, another man of harsher disposition was first sent. But he preached to the English for some time unsuccessfully and seeing that the people were unwilling to listen to him, he returned to his own land. At a meeting of the elders he reported that he had made no headway in the instruction of the people to whom he had been sent, because they were intractable, obstinate, and uncivilized. It is related that there was a long discussion at the conference as to what ought to be done; for they were anxious to give that people the help it asked for and regretted that the preacher they had sent had not been accepted. Then Aidan, who was present at the conference, said to the priest in question, ‘It seems to me, brother, that you have been unreasonably harsh upon your ignorant hearers: you did not first offer them the milk of simpler teaching, as the apostle recommends, until little by little, as they grew strong on the food of God’s word, they were capable of receiving more elaborate instruction and of carrying out the more transcendent commandments of God.’ All eyes were turned on Aidan when they heard these words and all present carefully considered what he had said. They agreed that he was worthy to be made a bishop and that he was the man to send to instruct those ignorant unbelievers, since he had proved himself to be pre-eminently endowed with the grace of discretion, which is the mother of all virtues. So he was consecrated and sent to preach to them. As time went on he proved himself to be remarkable not only for the moderation and good sense which they had first observed in him, but for many other virtues as well.

Book 3: Chapter 7

When Cenwealh had been restored to his kingdom there came to his land from Ireland a bishop named Agilbert, a Gaul by birth, who had spent a long time in Ireland for the purpose of studying the scriptures. He now attached himself to the king and voluntarily undertook the task of preaching. When the king saw his learning and industry, he asked him to accept an Episcopal see in that place and to remain as bishop of his people. Agilbert complied with his request and presided over the nation as bishop for a number of years. But at last the king, who knew only the Saxon language, grew tired of his barbarous speech and foisted upon the kingdom a bishop named Wine who had also been consecrated in Gaul but who spoke the king’s own tongue.

Book 3: Chapter 13

Not only did the fame of this renowned king spread through all parts of Britain but the beams of his healing light also spread across the ocean and reached the realms of Germany and Ireland. For example, the most revered Bishop Acca is accustomed to tell how, when he was on his way to Rome, he and his own Bishop Wilfrid stayed with the saintly Willibrord, archbishop of the Frisians, and often heard the archbishop describe the miracles which happened in the kingdom at the relics of the most reverend king. He also related how, while he was still only a priest, and living a pilgrim’s life in Ireland out of love for his eternal fatherland, the fame of Oswald’s sanctity had spread far and wide in that island too. One of these miracle stories which  he told I have thought worth including in the present History.

‘At the time of the plague’, he said, ‘which caused widespread havoc both in Britain and Ireland one of the many victims was a certain Irish scholar, a man learned in literary studies but utterly careless and unconcerned about his own everlasting salvation. When he realized that he was near death, he trembled to think that, as soon as he was dead, he would be snatched away to the bondage of hell because of his sins. As I happened to be near by, he sent for me and, trembling and sighing in his weakness, tearfully told me his troubles. “You see”, he said, “that I am getting worse and have now reached the point of death; nor do I doubt that, after the death of my body, my soul will immediately be snatched to everlasting death to suffer the torments of the hell; for in spite of all my study of the scriptures, it has long been my custom to entangle myself in vice rather than obey God’s commands. But I have made up my mind, if, by the grace of Heaven I am granted any further term of life, to correct my vicious ways and to devote my whole heart and life to obeying the divine will. I know indeed that it will not be through any merits of my own that I shall receive a new lease of life, nor can I hope to receive it unless perhaps God should deign to grant me forgiveness, wretched and unworthy though I am, through the intercession of those who have served him faithfully. Now we have heard a wide-spread report about an extremely holy king of your race named Oswald, and how since his death the occurrence of frequent miracles has borne witness to his outstanding faith and virtue. So I beg you, if you have any of his relics with you, to bring them to me, so that the Lord may perhaps have mercy upon me through his merits.” I answered, “I have some of the wooden stake on which his head was fixed by the heathen after he was killed. If you firmly believe with all your heart, God, in His grace, can grant you a longer term of earthly life through the merits of this man and also fit you to enter into eternal life.” He at once answered that he had complete faith in it. Then I blessed some water, put a splinter of the oak into it, and gave it to the sick man to drink. He immediately felt better, recovered from his sickness, and lived for many years He turned to the Lord in heart and deed and, wherever he went, he proclaimed the goodness of the merciful Creator and the glory of his faithful servant.’

Book 3: Chapter 19

While Sigebehrt was still ruling, there came a holy man from Ireland called Fursa; he was renowned in word and deed and remarkable for his singular virtues. He was anxious to live the life of a pilgrim for the Lord’s sake, wherever opportunity offered. When he came to the kingdom of the East Angles, he was honourably received by the king and followed his usual task of preaching the gospel. Thus he converted many both by the example of his virtues and the persuasiveness of his teaching, turning unbelievers to Christ and confirming believers in His faith and love.

Once when he was suffering from an illness, he was counted worthy to enjoy a vision of angels, in which he was directed to maintain diligently the task that he had undertaken of ministering the Word, and to continue to watch and pray and not be weary, because death was certain but the hour of death uncertain, as the Lord said, ‘Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour.’ After he had been strengthened by the vision, he set himself with all speed to build a monastery on a site which he had received from King Sigebehrt and to establish there the observance of a Rule. Now the monastery was pleasantly situated close to the woods and the sea, in a Roman camp which is called in English Cnobheresburg, that is the city of Cnobhere (Burgh Castle). The king of that realm, Anna and his nobles afterwards endowed it with still finer buildings and gifts.

He was a man of very noble Irish race, but still nobler in spirit than by birth. From his boyhood’s days he had devoted all his energy to the study of sacred books and to the monastic discipline; furthermore, as a saint should, he earnestly sought to do whatever he learned to be his duty. What more need be said? As time went on he built a monastery for himself where he could more freely devote himself to his divine studies. On one occasion when he was attacked by illness, as his Life fully describes, he was snatched from the body; he quitted it from evening to cock crow and during that time he was privileged to gaze upon the angelic hosts and to listen to their blessed songs of praise. He used to say that he heard them sing among other songs, ‘The saints shall go from strength to strength’, and again, ‘The God of gods shall be seen in Sion’. He returned to his body and, two days afterwards, was taken out of it a second time and saw not only the very great joys of the blessed but also the fierce onslaughts of the evil spirits who, by their manifold accusations, wickedly sought to prevent his journey to heaven; but they failed utterly for he was protected by angels. If anyone wishes to know more of these matters, let him read the book I have mentioned and I think that he will gain great spiritual benefit from it. There he will learn with what subtlety and deceit the devils reported Fursa’s deeds, his idle words, and his very thoughts, just as if they had written them down in a book; and the joyful and sad things that he learned both from the angels and from the righteous men who appeared to him in the company of the angels.

But there is one of these incidents which we have thought it might be helpful to many to include in this history. When Fursa had been taken up to a great height, he was told by the angels who were conducting him to look back at the world. As he looked down, he saw some kind of dark valley immediately beneath him and four fires in the air, not very far from one another. When he asked the angels what these fires were, he was told that they were the fires which were to kindle and consume the world. One of them is falsehood, when we do not fulfil our promise to renounce Satan and all his works as we undertook to do in our baptism; the second is covetousness, when we put the love of riches before the love of heavenly things; the third is discord, when we do not fear to offend our neighbours even in trifling matters; the fourth is injustice, when we think it a small thing to despoil and defraud the weak. Gradually these fires grew together and merged into one vast conflagration. As it approached him, he cried out in fear to the angel, ‘Look, sir, the fire is coming near me.’ But the angel answered, ‘That which you did not kindle will not burn you; for although the conflagration seems great and terrible, it tests each man according to his deserts, and the evil desires of everyone will be burned away in this fire. For just as in the body a man burns with illicit pleasures, so when he is free from the body, he makes due atonement by burning.’ Then he saw one of the three angels who had been his guides throughout both visions go forward and divide the flames, while the other two flew on each side of him to defend him from the peril of the conflagration. He also saw devils flying through the flames and stirring up fires of hostility against the righteous. There follow, in the book, the accusations of the evil spirits against himself, the defence of the good spirits, and a fuller vision of the heavenly hosts, as well as of the saints of his own nation, whose names he knew by repute and who had been devoted priests in days gone by. From them he learned many things valuable both to himself and to those who might be willing to listen. When they had finished speaking and had returned to heaven in their turn with the angelic spirits, the three angels we have mentioned remained with Fursa to restore him to his body. When they approached the conflagration, the angel, as before, parted the flames. But when the man of God came to the passage opened up in the midst of the fire, the evil spirits seized one of those who were burning in the flames, hurled him at Fursa, hitting him and scorching his shoulder and jaw. Fursa recognized the man and remembered that on his death he had received some of his clothing. The angel took the man and cast him back at once into the fire. The spiteful foe said, ‘Do not reject him whom you once acknowledged; for, since you have received the property of a sinner, you ought to share the same punishment.’ The angel withstood him saying, ‘He did not receive it out of greed but to save his soul.’ The fire then died down and the angel turned to Fursa and said, ‘You were burned by the fire you had kindled. For if you had not received the property of this man who died in his sins, you would not have been burned by the fire of his punishment.’ He then went on to give helpful advice as to what should be done for the salvation of those who repented in the hour of death. When Fursa had been restored to his body, he bore for the rest of his life the marks of the burns which he had suffered while a disembodied spirit; they were visible to all on his shoulder and his jaw. It is marvellous to think that what he suffered secretly as a disembodied spirit showed openly upon his flesh. He always took care, as he had done before, to encourage all both by his sermons and by his example to practise virtue. But he would only give an account of his visions to those who questioned him about them, because they desired to repent. An aged brother is still living in our monastery who is wont to relate that a most truthful and pious man told him that he had seen Fursa himself in the kingdom of the East Angles and had heard these visions from his own mouth. He added that although it was during a time of severe winter weather and a hard frost and though Fursa sat wearing only a thin garment, yet as he told his story, he sweated as though it were the middle of summer, either because of the terror or else the joy which his recollections aroused.

To return to what we were saying before, he preached the word of God in Ireland for many years until, when he could no longer endure the noise of the crowds who thronged to him, he gave up all that he seemed to have and left his native island. He came with a few companions through the land of the Britons and into the kingdom of the East Angles, where he preached the Word and there, as we have said, built a monastery. Having duly accomplished all this, he longed to free himself from all worldly affairs, even those of the monastery itself; so leaving his brother Foillán in charge of the monastery and its souls and also the priests Gobán and Dícuill and, being free from all worldly cares, he resolved to end his life as a hermit. He had another brother called Ultán, who, after a long time of probation in the monastery, had passed on to the life of a hermit. So Fursa sought him out in his solitude and for a whole year lived with him in austerity and prayer, labouring daily with his hands. Then, seeing that the kingdom was disturbed by heathen invasions and that the monasteries were also threatened with danger, he left all things in order and sailed for Gaul, where he was honourably entertained by Clovis, king of the Franks, and by the patrician Eorcenwold. He built a monastery in a place called Lagny, where, not long afterwards, he was taken ill and died.

The patrician Erchinoald took his body and placed it in one of the chapels of the church which he was building in his own town called Péronne, until such time as the church was dedicated. This happened twenty-seven days afterwards, when the body was translated from the chapel and reburied near the altar. It was found as whole as if he had died that very hour. Four years afterwards, when a very beautiful shrine was built for the reception of his body, on the east side of the altar, it was still found without taint of corruption and was translated thither with all due honour. It is well known that through the mediation of God, many miracles have been performed there to show his merits. We have briefly touched on these matters and about the incorruption of his body so that readers may clearly know how eminent a man he was. All these subjects, as well as an account of his fellow warriors, will be found more fully set out in his Life for all those who wish to read it.

Book 3: Chapter 21

Ceollach became bishop after him, another man of Irish race, who, not long after, left his bishopric and returned to the island of Iona where the Irish monastery was, which was chief and head of many monasteries. Trumhere followed him as bishop, a pious man trained in the monastic life, who though of English race was consecrated bishop by the Irish. This happened in the time of King Wulfhere, of whom we shall have more to say hereafter.

Book 3: Chapter 24

The third bishop was Trumhere, an Englishman but educated and consecrated by the Irish. He was abbot of the monastery called Giling, the place where King Oswine was killed, as described above. Queen Eanflaed, his kinswoman, had asked King Oswiu to expiate Oswine’s unjust death by granting God’s servant Trumhere, also a near relative of the murdered king, a site at Gilling to build a monastery; in it prayer was continually to be said for the eternal welfare of both kings, for the one who planned the murder and for his victim.

Book 3: Chapter 25

Meanwhile, after Bishop Aidan’s death, Finan succeeded him as bishop, having been consecrated and sent over by the Irish. He constructed a church on the island of Lindisfarne suitable for an episcopal see, building it after the Irish method, not of stone but of hewn oak, thatching it with reeds; later on the most reverend Archbishop Theodore consecrated it in honour of the blessed apostle Peter. It was Eadberht, who was bishop of Lindisfarne, who removed the reed thatch and had the whole of it, both roof and walls, covered with sheets of lead.

In those days there arose a great and active controversy about the keeping of Easter. Those who had come from Kent or Gaul declared that the Irish observance of Easter Sunday was contrary to the custom of the universal church. One most violent defender of the true Easter was Ronan who, though Irish by race, had learned the true rules of the church in Gaul or Italy. In disputing with Finan he put many right or at least encouraged them to make a more strict inquiry into the truth; but he could be no means put Finan right; on the contrary, as he was a man of fierce temper, Ronan made him the more bitter by his reproofs and turned him into an open adversary of the truth. James, once the deacon of the venerable Archbishop Paulinus, as we have already said, kept the true and catholic Easter with all those whom he could instruct in the better way. Queen Eanflaed and her people also observed it as she had seen it done in Kent, having with her a Kentish priest named Romanus who followed the catholic observance. Hence it is said that in these days it sometimes happened that Easter was celebrated twice in the same year, so that the king had finished the fast and was keeping Easter Sunday, while the queen and her people were still in Lent and observing Palm Sunday. This difference in the observance of Easter was patiently tolerated by all while Aidan was alive, because they had clearly understood that although he could not keep Easter otherwise than according to the manner of those who had sent him, he nevertheless laboured diligently to practise the works of faith, piety, and love, which is the mark of all the saints. He was therefore deservedly loved by all, including those who had other views about Easter. Not only was he respected by the ordinary people but also by bishops, such as Honorius of Kent and Felix of East Anglia.

When Finan, Aidan’s successor, was dead and Colman, who had also been sent to Ireland, had become bishop, a still more serious controversy arose concerning the observance of Easter as well as about other matters of ecclesiastical discipline. This dispute naturally troubled the minds and hearts of many people who feared that, though they had received the name of Christian, they were running or had run in vain. All this came to the ears of the rulers themselves, Oswiu and his son Alhfrith. Oswiu, who had been educated and baptized by the Irish and was well versed in their language, considered that nothing was better than what they had taught. But Alhfrith had as his instructor in the Christian faith one Wilfrid, a most learned man who had once been to Rome to study church doctrine and had spent much time at Lyons with Dalfinus, archbishop of Gaul, having received there his ecclesiastical tonsure in the form of a crown; so Alhfrith rightly preferred his teaching to all the traditions of the Irish and had therefore given him a monastery of forty hides in the place called Ripon. He had presented the site, a short time before, to those who followed Irish ways; but because, when given the choice, they preferred to renounce the site rather than change their customs, he gave it to one who was worthy of the place both by his doctrine and his way of life. At that time there had come to the kingdom of Northumbria Agilbert, bishop of the West Saxons, whom we have mentioned before, a friend of Alhfrith and of Abbot Wilfrid, he stayed some time with them and, at the request of Alhfrith, he ordained Wilfrid priest in his own monastery. Agilbert had with him a priest called Agatho.

When this question of Easter and of the tonsure and other ecclesiastical matters was raised, it was decided to hold a council to settle the dispute at a monastery called Streanaeshealh (Whitby), a name which means the bay of the lighthouse; at this time Hild, a woman devoted to God, was abbess. There came to the council the two kings, both father and son, Bishop Colman with his Irish clergy, and Agilbert with the priests Agatho and Wilfrid. James and Romanus were on their side while the Abbess Hild and her followers were on the side of the Irish; among these also was the venerable Bishop Cedd, who, as has been mentioned, had been consecrated long before by the Irish and who acted as a most careful interpreter for both parties at the council.

First King Oswiu began by declaring that it was fitting that those who served one God should observe one rule of life and not differ in the celebration of the heavenly sacraments, seeing that they all hoped for one kingdom in heaven; they ought therefore to inquire as to which was the truer tradition and then all follow it together. He then ordered his bishop Colman to say first what were the customs which he followed and whence they originated. Colman thereupon said, ‘The method of keeping Easter which I observe, I received from my superiors who sent me here as bishop; it was in this way that all our fathers, men beloved of God, are known to have celebrated it. Nor should this method seem contemptible and blameworthy seeing that the blessed evangelist John, the disciple whom the Lord specially loved, is said to have celebrated it thus, together with all the churches over which he presided.’ When he had said all this and more to the same effect, the king ordered Agilbert to expound the method he observed, its origin and the authority he had for following it. Agilbert answered, ‘I request that my disciple, the priest Wilfrid, may speak on my behalf, for we are both in agreement with the other followers of our church tradition who are here present; and he can explain our views in the English tongue better and more clearly than I can through an interpreter.’ Then Wilfrid, receiving instructions from the king to speak, began thus: ‘The Easter we keep is the same as we have seen universally celebrated in Rome, where the apostles St Peter and St Paul lived, taught, suffered, and were buried. We also found it in use everywhere in Italy and Gaul when we travelled through those countries for the purpose of study and prayer. We learned that it was observed at one and the same time in Africa, Asia, Egypt, Greece, and throughout the whole world, wherever the Church of Christ is scattered, amid various nations and languages. The only exceptions are these men and their accomplices in obstinacy, I mean the Picts and the Britons, who in these, the two remotest islands of the Ocean, and only in some parts of them, foolishly attempt to fight against the whole world.’

Colman answered, ‘I wonder that you are willing to call our efforts foolish, seeing that we follow the example of that apostle who was reckoned worthy to recline on the breast of the Lord; for all the world acknowledges his great wisdom.’ Wilfrid replied, ‘Far be it from me to charge John with foolishness: he literally observed the decrees of the Mosaic law when the Church was still Jewish in many respects, at a time when the apostles were unable to bring to a sudden end the entire observance of that law which God ordained in the same way as, for instance, they made it compulsory on all new converts to abandon their idols which are of devilish origin. They feared, of course, that they might make a stumbling block for the Jewish proselytes dispersed among the Gentiles. This was the reason why Paul circumcised Timothy, why he offered sacrifices at the temple, and why he shaved his head at Corinth in company with Aquila with Priscilla; all this was of no use except to avoid scandalizing the Jews. Hence James said to Paul, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them which have believed; and they are all zealous of the law.” But in these days when the light of the Gospel is spreading throughout the world, it is not necessary, it is not even lawful for believers to be circumcised or to offer God sacrifices of flesh and blood. So John, in accordance with the custom of the law, began the celebration of Easter Day in the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month, regardless of whether it fell on the Sabbath or any other day. But when Peter preached at Rome, remembering that the Lord rose from the dead and brought to the world the hope of the resurrection on the first day of the week, he realized that Easter ought to be kept as follows: he always waited for the rising of the moon on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month in accordance with the custom and precepts of the law, just as John did, but when it had risen, if the Lord’s Day, which was then called the first day of the week, followed in the morning, he proceeded to celebrate Easter as we are accustomed to do at the present time. But if the Lord’s Day was due, not on the morning following the fourteenth day of the moon but on the sixteenth or seventeenth or any other day until the twenty-first, he waited for it, and began the holy Easter ceremonies the night before, that is, on the Saturday evening; so it came about that Easter Sunday was kept only between the fifteenth day of the moon and the twenty-first. So this evangelical and apostolic tradition does not abolish the law but rather fulfils it, by ordering the observance of Easter from the evening of the fourteenth day of the moon in the first month up to the twenty-first of the moon in the same month. All the successors of St John in Asia since his death and also the whole church throughout the world have followed this observance. That this is the true Easter and that this alone must be celebrated by the faithful was not newly decreed but confirmed afresh by the Council of Nicaea as the history of the Church informs us. So it is plain, Colman, that you neither follow the example of John, as you think, nor of Peter, whose tradition you knowingly contradict; and so, in your observance of Easter, you neither follow the law nor the gospel. For John who kept Easter according to the decrees of the Mosaic law, took no heed of the Sunday; you do not do this, for you celebrate Easter only on a Sunday. Peter celebrated Easter Sunday between the fifteenth and the twenty-first day of the moon; you, on the other hand, celebrate Easter Sunday between the fourteenth and twentieth day of the moon. Thus you very often begin Easter on the evening of the thirteenth day of the moon, which is never mentioned in the law. This was not the day – it was the fourteenth, in which the Lord, the author and giver of the Gospel, ate the old Passover in the evening and instituted the sacraments of the new testament to be celebrated by the church in remembrance of his passion. Besides, in your celebration of Easter you utterly exclude the twenty-first day, which the law of Moses specially ordered to be observed. So, as I have said, in your celebration of the greatest of the festivals you agree neither with John nor Peter, neither with the law nor the Gospel.’

Colman replied, ‘Did Anatolius, a man who was holy and highly spoken of in the history of the Church to which you appeal, judge contrary to the law and the Gospel when he wrote that Easter should be celebrated between the fourteenth and the twentieth day of the moon? Or must we believe that our most revered father Columba and his successors, men beloved of God, who celebrated Easter in the same way, judged and acted contrary to the holy scriptures, seeing that there were many of them to whose holiness the heavenly signs and the miracles they performed bore witness? And as I have no doubt that they were saints, I shall never cease to follow their way of life, their customs, and their teaching.’

Wilfrid replied, ‘It is true that Anatolius was a most holy and learned man, worthy of all praise; but what have you to do with him since you do not observe his precepts? He followed a correct rule in celebrating Easter, basing it on a cycle of nineteen years, of which you are either unaware or, if you do know of it, you despise it, even though it is observed by the whole Church of Christ. He assigned the fourteenth day of the moon to Easter Sunday, reckoning after the Egyptian manner that the fifteenth day of the moon began on the evening of the fourteenth. So also he signed the twentieth day to Easter Sunday, reckoning that after evening it was the twenty-first day. But it appears that you are ignorant of this distinction, in that you sometimes clearly keep Easter Day before full moon, that is on the thirteenth day of the moon. So far as your father Columba and his followers are concerned, whose holiness you claim to imitate and whose rule and precepts (confirmed by heavenly signs) you claim to follow, I might perhaps point out that at the judgement, many will say to the Lord that they prophesied in His name and cast out devils and did many wonderful works, but the Lord will answer that He never knew them. Far be it from me to say this about your fathers, for it is much fairer to believe good rather than evil about unknown people. So I will not deny that those who in their rude simplicity loved God with pious intent, were indeed servants of God and beloved by Him. Nor do I think that this observance of Easter did much harm to them while no one had come to show them a more perfect rule to follow. In fact I am sure that if anyone knowing the catholic rule had come to them they would have followed it, as they are known to have followed all the laws of God as soon as they had learned of them. But, once having heard the decrees of the apostolic see or rather of the universal Church, if you refuse to follow them, confirmed as they are by the holy Scriptures, then without doubt you are committing sin. For though your fathers were holy men, do you think that a handful of people in one corner of the remotest of islands is to be preferred to the universal Church of Christ which is spread throughout the world? And even if that Columba of yours – yes, and ours too, if he belonged to Christ – was a holy man of mighty words, is he to be preferred to be the most blessed chief of the apostles, to whom the Lord said, ‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven’?

When Wilfrid had ended, the king said, ‘Is it true, Colman, that the Lord said these words to Peter?’ Colman answered, ‘It is true, O King.’ Then the king went on, ‘Have you anything to show that an equal authority was given to your Columba?’ Colman answered, ‘Nothing.’ Again the king said, ‘do you both agree, without any dispute, that these words were addressed primarily to Peter and that the Lord gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven?’ They both answered, ‘Yes.’ Thereupon the king concluded, ‘Then, I tell you, since he is the doorkeeper I will not contradict him; but I intend to obey his commands in everything to the best of my knowledge and ability, otherwise when I come to the gates of the kingdom of heaven, there may be no one to open them because the one who on your own showing holds the keys has turned his back on me.’ When the king had spoken, all who were seated there or standing by, both high and low, signified their assent, gave up their imperfect rules, and readily accepted in their place those which they recognised to be better.

Book 3: Chapter 26

When the dispute had ended and the assembly had broken up, Agilbert returned home. Colman saw that his teachings were rejected and his principles despised; he took those who wished to follow him, that is, those who would not accept the catholic Easter and the tonsure in the shape of a crown (for there was no small argument about this too), and returned to Ireland in order to discuss with his own party what he ought to do in the matter. Cedd left the practices of the Irish and returned to his own see, having accepted the catholic method of keeping Easter. This dispute took place in the year of our Lord 664, in the twenty-second year of King Oswiu’s reign and after the Irish had held the episcopate in the English kingdom for thirty years: that is to say, Aidan for seventeen  years, Finan for ten, and Colman for three.

After Colman returned to his native land, Tuda, a servant of Christ, who had been educated among the southern Irish and there consecrated bishop, became bishop of the Northumbrian people; he had the ecclesiastical tonsure in the form of a crown, according to the custom of that kingdom, and also observed the catholic rules for the date of Easter. He  was a good and devoted man but only ruled over the church for a very short time. He had arrived from Ireland during Colman’s episcopate and diligently taught the true faith to all by word and example. A man named Eata, gentle and greatly revered, abbot of the monastery called Melrose, was placed as their abbot over the brothers who preferred  to remain at Lindisfarne when the Irish departed. It is said that Colman, on his departure, had asked and obtained this favour from King Oswiu, because Eata was one of those twelve boys of English race whom Aidan, when he first became bishop, had taken and instructed in Christ; for the king greatly loved Bishop Colman on account of his innate prudence. This same Eata, not long afterwards, became bishop of the church at Lindisfarne. Colman, on leaving, took with him some of the bones of the reverend father Aidan. He left some in the church over which he had presided, directing that they should be interred in the sanctuary.

How frugal and austere he and his predecessors had been, the place itself over which they ruled bears witness. When they left, there were very few buildings there except for the church, in fact only those without which the life of a community was impossible. They had no money but only cattle; if they received money from the rich they promptly give it to the poor; for they had no need to collect money or to provide dwellings for the reception of worldly and powerful men, since these only came to the church to pray and to hear the word of God. The king himself used to come, whenever opportunity allowed, with only five or six thegns, and when he had finished his prayers in the church he went away. If they happened to take a meal there, they were content with the simple daily fare of the brothers and asked for nothing more. The sole concern of these teachers was to serve God and not the world, to satisfy the soul and not the belly. For this reason the religious habit was held in great respect at that time, so that whenever a cleric or a monk went anywhere he was gladly received by all as God’s servant. If they chanced to meet him by the roadside, they ran towards him and, bowing their heads, were eager either to be signed with the cross by his hand or to receive a blessing from his lips. Great attention was also paid to his exhortations, and on Sundays the people flocked eagerly to the church or the monastery, not to get food fro the body but to hear the word of God. If by chance a priest came to a village, the villagers crowded together, eager to hear from him the word of life; for the priests and the clerics visited the villages for no other reason than to preach, to baptize, and to visit the sick, in brief to care for their souls. They were so free from all taint of avarice that none of them would accept lands or possessions to build monasteries, unless compelled to by the secular authorities. This practice was observed universally among the Northumbrian churches for some time afterwards. But enough has been said on this subject.

Book 3: Chapter 27

In this year of our Lord 664 there was an eclipse of the sun on 3 May about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. In the same year a sudden pestilence first depopulated the southern parts of Britain and afterwards attacked the kingdom of Northumbria, raging far and wide with cruel devastation and laying low a vast number of people. Bishop Tuda was carried off by it and honourably buried in the monastery called Paegnalaech. The plague did equal destruction in Ireland.

At this time there were many in England, both nobles and commons, who, in the days of Bishops Finan and Colman, had left their own country and retired to Ireland either for the sake of religious studies or to live a more ascetic life. In course of time some of these devoted themselves faithfully to the monastic life, while others preferred to travel round to the cells of various teachers and apply themselves to study. The Irish welcomed them all gladly, gave them their daily food, and also provided them with books to read and with instruction, without asking for any payment.

Among these were two young Englishmen of great ability, named Æthelhun and Egbert, both of noble birth. The former was a brother of Æthelwine, a man equally beloved of God, who, later on, also went to Ireland to study; when he had been well grounded he returned to his native land and was made bishop in the kingdom of Lindsey, over which he ruled for a long time with great distinction. Æthelhun and Egbert were in a monastery which the Irish call Rathmelsigi, and all their companions were carried off by the plague or scattered about in various places, while they themselves were both stricken by the same disease and were dangerously ill. An aged and venerable priest, a most truthful man, told me this story about Egbert, declaring that he had heard it from his own lips: when Egbert thought he was on the point of death, early in the morning he left the infirmary where all the sick lay and found a convenient spot in which to be alone; there he began earnestly to consider his past life. He was so stricken with remorse at the memory of his sins that he wept bitterly, and prayed God with all his heart that he might not die until he had had time to make amends for all the thoughtless offences of which he had been guilty during infancy and boyhood and to practise good works more abundantly. He also made a vow that he would live in exile and never return to his native island, Britain; that in addition to the solemn psalmody of the canonical offices he would daily recite the whole psalter to the praise of God, unless prevented by illness; and every week he would fast for a day and a night. When he had ended his tears, his prayers, and his vows, he returned home and found his companion asleep; he too lay on his bed and began to settle down to rest. After a short time of quiet, his companion awoke, looked at him, and said, ‘Brother Egbert, what have you done? I hoped that we should both enter into eternal life together; but you are to know that your request will be granted.’ He had learned in a vision what it was that Egbert had prayed for and also that his prayer had been answered. To put it briefly, Æthelhun died the same night while Egbert threw off his sickness, recovered, and lived for a long time afterwards, gracing the office of priest which he had received by deeds worthy of it. After having lived a virtuous life according to his wish, he recently passed away to the heavenly realms, in the year of our Lord 729, at the age of ninety. He lived a life of great humility, gentleness, temperance, simplicity, and righteousness. He brought much blessing both to his own race and to those among whom he lived in exile, the Irish and the Picts, by the example of his life, the earnestness of his teaching, the authority with which he administered reproof, and his goodness in distributing whatever he received from the rich. In addition to the vows we have already mentioned, he never ate more than once a day throughout Lent, taking only bread and the thinnest of milk, and even these in great moderation. He used to place the previous day’s new milk in a vessel, skim off the cream in the morning, and drink what was left, taking a little bread with it, as we have said. He always practised the same abstinence for forty days before Christmas and for the same number after the solemn feast of the fifty days, that is, Pentecost.

Book 3: Chapter 27

When Wilfred returned to Britain after his consecration, he also introduced many catholic customs in the English churches so that, as the catholic principles daily gained strength, all the Irish who had remained among the English either gave way or returned to their own land.

Book 4: Chapter 3

This brother’s account of the bishop’s death also agrees with the story of a vision related by the most reverend father Egbert already mentioned, who had lived the monastic life with Chad, when they were both youths in Ireland, diligently engaged in prayer and fasting and meditating on the divine Scriptures. But while Chad returned to his native land, Egbert remained there until the end of his life, an exile for the Lord’s sake. A long time afterwards, a very holy and abstemious man named Higebald, who was abbot in the province of Lindsey, came to visit him. As was fitting for holy men they were talking about the lives of the early fathers and saying how gladly they would imitate them, when mention was made of the revered Bishop Chad; whereupon Egbert said, ‘I know a man in this island, still in the flesh, who saw the soul of Chad’s brother Cedd descend from the sky with a host of angels and return to the heavenly kingdom, taking Chad’s soul with him.’ Whether he was speaking of himself or of another is uncertain, but what cannot be uncertain is that whatever such a man said must be true.

Chad died on 2 March and was first of all buried close to the church of St Mary; but when the church of St Peter, the most blessed chief of the apostles, was later built, his bones were translated there. In each place frequent miracles of healing occur as a sign of his virtue. For example, quite recently a madman, who had been wandering from one place to another, came there one evening unknown to or unregarded by the guardians of the church, and spent the whole night there. The next morning he came out in his right mind and, to the amazement and joy of all, demonstrated how he had regained his health there through the goodness of God. Chad’s place of burial is a wooden coffin in the shape of a little house, having an aperture in its side, through which those who visit it out of devotion can insert their hands and take out a little of the dust. When it is put in water and given either to cattle or men who are ailing, they get their wish and are at once freed from their ailments and rejoice in health restored.

Book 4: Chapter 4

Meanwhile Colman, who was a bishop from Ireland, left Britain and took with him all the Irish whom he had gathered together on the island of Lindisfarne. He also took about thirty men of English race, both companies having been instructed in the duties of monastic life. Leaving some of the brothers in the church in Lindisfarne, he went first to the island of Iona, from which he had been sent to preach the word to the English. From there he went on to a small island some distance off the west coast of Ireland, called in Irish Inisboufinde (Inishbofin), the island of the white heifer. When he reached this island, he built a monastery and placed in it monks whom he had brought from both nations. But they could not agree together because the Irish, in summer time when the harvest had to be gathered in, left the monastery and wandered about, scattering into various places with which they were familiar; then when winter came, they returned and expected to have a share in the things which the English had provided. Colman sought to put an end to this dispute and at last, having travelled about far and near, he found a place suitable for building a monastery on the Irish mainland called in the Irish tongue Mag éo (Mayo). He bought a small part of the land from the chief to whom it belonged, on condition that the monks who settled there were to pray to the Lord for him as he had provided them with the land. A monastery was forthwith built with the help of the chief and all the neighbours and in it he placed the English monks, leaving the Irishmen on the island. This monastery is still occupied by Englishmen; from small beginnings it has now become very large and is commonly known as Muig éo (Mayo). All these monks have adopted a better Rule and it now contains a remarkable company gathered there from England, living after the example of the venerable fathers under a Rule, having an abbot elected canonically, in great devotion and austerity and supporting themselves by the labour of their own hands.

Book 4: Chapter 25

About this time, the monastery of virgins at Coldingham, which has previously been mentioned, was burned down through carelessness. However, all who knew the truth were easily able to judge that it happened because of the wickedness of those who dwelt there and especially of those who were supposed to be its leaders. But God in His mercy did not fail to give warning of approaching punishment so that they might have been led to amend their ways and, by fasting, tears, and prayers, to have averted the wrath of the just Judge from themselves as did the people of Nineveh.

Now in this monastery there was an Irishman named Adamnan who led a life so devoted to God in austerity and prayer that he never took food or drink except on Sundays and Thursdays and often spent whole nights in vigils and prayers. He had first adopted this strict and austere way of life because of the necessity of atoning for the evil he had committed, but in the course of time what he was once compelled to do as a penance became a habit.

In his youth he had been guilty of a certain sin but when he came to his senses he was utterly horrified and feared that he would be punished for it by the righteous Judge. So he went to a priest who, he hoped, could show him the way of salvation. He confessed his guilt and asked for advice as to how he could flee from the wrath to come. When the priest heard his offence he said, ‘A severe wound calls for an even more severe remedy: so give yourself up to fastings, psalmody, and prayer to the utmost of your ability, so that, when you come before the presence of the Lord with your confession, you may deserve to find mercy.’ But as he was in great grief because of his guilty conscience, and because he longed to get free as quickly as possible from the inward bonds of sin which weighed him down, he said, ‘I am still young in years and strong in body; so I can easily endure whatever penance you place upon me, if only I may be saved in the day of the Lord, even though you bid me remain standing in prayer all night or fast for a whole week.’ The priest said, ‘It is too much to endure a whole week without food: it is enough to fast for two or three days. Do this until I return to you in a short time, when I will show you more fully what you must do and how long you must persevere in your penance.’ So with these words the priest went away, having prescribed the measure of his penance, and for some reason he suddenly went to Ireland, which was his native country, and did not come back again to keep his appointment. The man who remembered his injunction as well as his own promise, gave himself up entirely to penitential tears and holy vigils and austerity. When he heard that the priest had gone to Ireland and had died there, he ever afterwards, in accordance with his promise, maintained this same standard of austerity; and though he had begun this way of life in the fear of God and in penitence for his guilt, he now continued it unweariedly for the love of God and because he delighted in its rewards.

When he had practised this diligently for a long time he happened to go one day on a journey of some distance from the monastery, accompanied by one of the brothers. On the return journey, as they approached the monastery and beheld its lofty buildings, the man of God burst into tears, while his face betrayed the sorrow of his heart. When his companion saw this, he asked Adamnan the reason and he replied, ‘All these buildings which you now see, both communal and private, will shortly be burnt to ashes.’ Thereupon the other monk made it his business, as soon as they entered the monastery, to tell Aebbe, the mother of the congregation. She was naturally disturbed by this prophecy, summoned Adamnan to her, and carefully questioned him about this matter and how he came to know of it. He answered ‘I was recently occupied in vigils and singing psalms when I suddenly saw someone standing by me whom I did not recognize. I was greatly startled at his presence, but he told me not to be afraid and added in a friendly kind of manner, “You do well to choose to employ the night hours of rest in vigil and prayer instead of indulging in sleep.” I answered, “I know that I have great need to employ my time in salutary vigils and in praying earnestly to the Lord to pardon my sins.” “You speak truly,” he replied, “but many besides yourself need to atone for their sins by good works and, by setting themselves free from worldly occupations, to labour more eagerly to cultivate a desire for their eternal welfare; yet there are very few who do this. I have just visited every part of this monastery in turn: I have examined their cells and their beds, and I have found no one except you concerned with his soul’s welfare; but all of them, men and women alike, are sunk in slothful slumbers or else they remain awake for the purposes of sin. And the cells that were built for praying and for reading have become haunts of feasting, drinking, gossip, and other delights; even the virgins who are dedicated to God put aside all respect for their profession and, whenever they have leisure, spend their time weaving elaborate garments with which to adorn themselves as if they were brides, so imperilling their virginity, or else to make friends with strange men. So it is only right that a heavy vengeance from heaven should be preparing for this place and for its inhabitants in the form of raging fire.”’ The abbess said, ‘Why were you unwilling to reveal these facts to me earlier?’ He answered, ‘I was afraid to do so out of respect for you, fearing you would be too greatly perturbed; nevertheless you may have this consolation that the calamity will not happen in your time.’ When this vision became known, those who lived in the monastery were somewhat afraid for a few days and began to give up their sins and do penance. But after the death of the abbess, they returned to their old defilement and committed even worse crimes; and when they said ‘peace and safety’, suddenly the predicted punishment and vengeance fell upon them.

Book 4: Chapter 26

In the year of our Lord 684 Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria, sent an army to Ireland under his ealdorman Berht, who wretchedly devastated a harmless race that had always been most friendly to the English, and his hostile bands spared neither churches nor monasteries. The islanders resisted force by force so far as they were able, imploring the merciful aid of God and invoking His vengeance with unceasing imprecations. And although those who curse cannot inherit the kingdom of God, yet one may believe that those who were justly cursed for their wickedness quickly suffered the penalty of their guilt at the avenging hand of God. Indeed the very next year the king rashly took an army to ravage the kingdom of the Picts, against the urgent advice of his friends and particularly of Cuthbert, of blessed memory, who had recently been made bishop. The enemy feigned flight and lured the king into some narrow passes in the midst of inaccessible mountains; there he was killed with the greater part of the forces he had taken with him, on 20 May, in the fortieth year of his age and the fifteenth of his reign. As I have said, his friends urged him not to undertake this campaign; but in the previous year he had refused to listen to the holy father Egbert, who had urged him not to attack the Irish who had done him no harm; and the punishment for his sin was that he would not now listen to those who sought to save him from his own destruction.

From this time the hopes and strength of the English kingdom began to ‘ebb and fall away’. For the Picts recovered their own land which the English had formerly held, while the Irish who lived in Britain and some part of the British nation recovered their independence, which they have now enjoyed for about forty-six years.

Book 5: Chapter 9

At that time the venerable servant of Christ and priest Egbert, a man to be named in all honour, was living a life of exile in Ireland, as has been said before, so that he might reach his heavenly fatherland. He planned to bring blessing to many peoples by undertaking the apostolic task of carrying the word of God, through the preaching of the gospel, to some of those nations who had not yet heard it. He knew that there were very many peoples in Germany from whom the Angles and Saxons, who now live in Britain, derive their origin; hence even to this day they are a corruption called Germani by their neighbours the Britons. Now these people are the Frisians, Rugians, Danes, Huns, Old Saxons, and Boruhtware (Bructeri); there are also many other nations in the same land who are still practising heathen rites to whom this soldier of Christ proposed to go, sailing round Britain, to try if he could deliver any of them from Satan and bring them to Christ. But if he could not do this, he intended to go to Rome, there to visit and worship at the shrines of the blessed apostles and martyrs of Christ.

But divine revelations and interventions prevented him from carrying out any of these plans. He had already chosen the most vigorous of his companions and those who were outstanding both by their lives and learning and so most suitable for preaching the Word; and everything that was necessary for the voyage was prepared. Then early one morning one of the brothers came to him who had once lived in Britain and had been a servant of Boisil, the beloved priest of God, when this Boisil was prior in the monastery of Melrose under the abbot Eata, as has already been said. The man related to Egbert a vision which he had seen during the night; he said, ‘When the mattin hymns were finished and I had lain down on my bed, I fell into a light sleep and there appeared to me my late master and much loved tutor Boisil who asked me if I recognized him. I answered, “Yes, you are Boisil.” He then went on, “I have come to bring to Egbert the reply of his Lord and Saviour which you must deliver to him. Tell him that he cannot perform this proposed journey. But it is God’s will that he should go instead and give instruction in the monasteries of Columba.”’ Now Columba was the first teacher of the faith to the Picts who lived beyond the hills to the north, and the first founder of the monastery in the island of Iona, which has long been greatly honoured by many of the tribes of Picts and Irish. Columba is now called Columcill by some, which is a compound of the word cella and the name Columba. When Egbert heard the story of the vision, he told the brother who related it not to repeat it to anyone else, for fear the vision should be an illusion. He himself silently considered the matter and feared it might be true; but nevertheless, he was unwilling to cease his preparations for the journey to those people whom he intended to instruct.

A few days afterwards the same brother came back to him and said that on that very night, immediately matins were finished, Boisil had again appeared to him in a vision saying, ‘Why have you delivered the message I gave you to Egbert in so careless and lukewarm a manner? Now go and say to him that, whether he likes it or not, he must go to Columba’s monasteries, for they are cutting a crooked furrow and he must call them back to the true line.’ On hearing this Egbert again charged the brother to tell no one. Though he was now sure of the vision, he nevertheless attempted to start on his intended voyage with the brothers. But after they had placed all the necessities for such a voyage on board and had waited several days for favourable winds, one night there arose a fierce tempest in which some of the goods in the ship were lost and it was left lying on its side in the water. Nevertheless, everything that belonged to Egbert and his companions was saved. Then, quoting the words of the prophet, ‘For my sake this great tempest is upon you’, he withdrew from the undertaking and resigned himself to staying at home.

There was one of his companions named Wihtberht who was remarkable both for his contempt of this world and for his learning. He had spent many years in exile in Ireland, living as a hermit in great perfection of life. He took ship and, after reaching Frisia, spent two whole years preaching the word of life to that nation and to its king Radbod, but he reaped no fruit for all this labour among the barbarians who heard him. So he returned to his beloved place of exile and began again to give himself up to the Lord, in his accustomed life of silence; and although he failed to help strangers to the faith, yet he took care to help his own people more, by the example of his virtues.

Book 5: Chapter 10

So Egbert, the man of the Lord, saw that he was not permitted to go and preach to the nations himself, but was retained to be of some other use to the holy Church, as he had been forewarned by a prophecy; and even though Wihtberht had made no headway when he went into those parts, yet Egbert still attempted to send holy and industrious men to the task of preaching the Word[…]

Following their example, two English priests who had long lived in exile in Ireland for the sake of their eternal fatherland, came to the kingdom of the Old Saxons in the hope of winning some in that land to Christ by their preaching. They both shared the same devotion and also the same name, for they were both named Hewald, but with this distinction that because of the different colour of their hair one was called Black Hewald and the other White Hewald[…]

When the barbarians saw them continually engaged in psalms and prayers and daily offering up the sacrifice of the saving Victim to God – for they had sacred vessels with them and a consecrated board instead of an altar – they realized that these men were of a different religion. They began to suspect that, if the Hewalds came to the viceroy and talked to him, they might turn him away from their gods and bring them to a new faith, the Christian religion, and so gradually the whole land would be compelled to change its old religion for a new one. So they seized them suddenly and put them death. They slew White Hewald quickly with a sword but Black Hewald was put to lingering torture and was torn limb from limb in a horrible fashion; their bodies were thrown into the Rhine.[…]

Heavenly miracles were not lacking at their martyrdom. When the heathen threw their bodies into the river, as I described, they were carried for nearly forty miles against the current to the place where their companions were. A great ray of light reaching to heaven shone every night upon the spot where they chanced to be and even the heathen who had slain them saw it. One of the brothers appeared by night in a vision to one of their companions whose name was Tilmon, a distinguished man and noble also in the worldly sense, who had been a soldier and become a monk. The vision pointed out to him that the bodies could be found in the place where he saw a light shining from heaven to earth. And so it befell; their bodies were found and buried with the honour due to martyrs, while the day of their passion and also of the finding of their bodies was fittingly observed in those places.

Book 5: Chapter 15

At this time, by the grace of God, the greater part of the Irish in Ireland and some of the Britons in Britain adopted the reasonable and canonical date for keeping Easter. The priest Adamnan, abbot of the monks on the island of Iona, was sent by his people on a mission to Aldfirth, king of the Angles, and stayed for some time in his kingdom to see the canonical rites of the church. He was earnestly advised by many who were better instructed than himself that he, in company with a very small band of followers, living in the remotest corner of the world, should not presume to go against the universal custom of the church in the matter of keeping Easter and in various other ordinances. He altered his opinion so greatly that he readily preferred the customs which he saw and heard in the English churches to those of himself and his followers. He was a good and wise man with an excellent knowledge of the Scriptures.

On his return home he sought to bring his own people in Iona and those who were in houses subject to the monastery, into the way of truth which he had himself recognized and accepted with his whole heart; but he was unable to do so. So he sailed to Ireland and preached to the people there, modestly explaining to them the true date of Easter. He corrected their traditional error and restored nearly all who were not under the dominion of Iona to catholic unity, teaching them to observe Easter at the proper time. After he had celebrated Easter in Ireland canonically, he returned to his own island and earnestly put before his own monastery the catholic observance of the date of Easter, but he was unable to achieve his end; and it happened that before the year was over he had departed from the world. Thus by the interposition of divine grace, it came about that a man who greatly loved unity and peace was called to life eternal so that he was not compelled, when Eastertime returned, to have a still graver controversy with those who would not follow him in the truth.

This man wrote a book on the holy places which has proved useful to many readers; his work was based upon information dictated to him by Arculf, a bishop of Gaul who had visited Jerusalem to see the holy places. He had wandered all over the promised land and had been to Damascus, Constantinople, Alexandria, and many islands of the sea. But as he was returning to his native land by sea, he was cast by the violence of the tempest on to the west coasts of Britain. After many adventures he came to the servant of Christ Adamnan who found him to be learned in the Scriptures and well acquainted with the holy places. Adamnan received him very gladly and eagerly listened to his words; he quickly committed to writing everything which Arculf had seen in the holy places which seemed to be worthy of remembrance. From this he made a book, as I said, which is useful to many and especially to those who live very far from the places where the patriarchs and apostles dwelt, and only know about them what they have learned from books. He gave this book to King Aldfrith and, through his kindness, it was circulated for lesser folk to read. The writer was sent back to his own country laden with many gifts. I think that it will be useful to readers to make some extracts and put them into this History.

Book 5: Chapter 15

He wrote thus about the Lord’s birthplace:

Bethlehem, the city of David, is situated on a narrow ridge, surrounded on all sides by valleys; it is a mile long from west to east, and has a low wall without towers, built around the edge of the plateau. In its eastern corner is a kind of natural half-cave, of which the outer part is said to have been the place of the Lord’s birth. The inner part is known as the Lord’s manger. The whole of the interior of this cave is covered with precious marble and, over the exact spot where the Lord is said to have been born, stands the great church of St Mary.

He wrote thus about the place of the Lord’s passion and resurrection:

Entering the city of Jerusalem from the north end, the first place to be visited, as the layout of the streets demands, is the church of Constantine called the Martyrium. The Emperor Constantine built this in magnificent and royal style, because it was here that his mother Helena found the Lord’s cross. Westward from here is the church of Golgotha in which the rock is still visible which once held the cross whereon the Lord’s body was nailed. The rock now supports a large silver cross while above it hangs a great circle of bronze with lamps attached. Below the site of the Lord’s cross, a crypt has been cut out in the rock and in this is an altar upon which the sacrifice is offered for the honoured dead, while their bodies meanwhile remain outside in the street. To the west of the church is the church of the Anastasis, that is, the Resurrection of the Lord, a round building surrounded by three walls and supported by twelve columns. Between each pair of walls is a broad passage containing there altars fixed in three places in the central wall, namely to the south and north and west. It has eight doors or entrances through the three walls, opposite one another, of which four face south-east and four east. In the centre is the round tomb of the Lord cut out of the rock, and a man standing inside can touch the roof with his hand. It has an entrance to the east and against it that great stone was set; to this day the cave on the inside bears the marks of iron tools. The exterior is completely covered with marble right to the top of the roof. This roof is adorned with gold and bears a great golden cross. On the north side of this tomb is the Lord’s sepulchre, cut out of the same rock, being seven feet long and raised about three hand-breadths from the floor. The entrance is on the south side, where twelve lamps burn day and night, four within the sepulchre and eight above it on the right edge. The stone which was placed at the mouth of the sepulchre is now split in two, but the smaller portion stands as an altar of squared stone in front of the tomb itself, while the larger part forms another four-cornered altar, set up at the east end of the church and draped with linen cloths. The colour of the tomb and the sepulchre is white mingled with red.

Book 5: Chapter 15

Our author writes thus about the place of the Lord’s ascension:

The mount of Olives is equal in height to mount Sion but exceeds it in breadth and length. Except for vines and olives, it has few trees, but it produces much wheat and barley, for the quality of the soil is not marshy but suitable rather for grass and flowers. At the summit, from which the Lord ascended to heaven, there is a great round church which has in its circumference three chapels with vaulted roofs. The interior of the church could not be vaulted or roofed because the Lord’s body passed up out of it. To the east it has an altar roofed in with a narrow canopy, and in the centre of the church are to be seen the last footprints of the Lords as He ascended, being open to the sky above. Although the earth is daily carried away by the faithful, yet it still remains and preserves the same appearance of having been marked by the impress of His feet. Around these footprints there is a circular enclosure of bronze, as high as a man’s neck, with a great lamp hanging above on pulleys, which shines day and night; it  has an entrance from the west. At the west end of the church are eight windows and, opposite them, are as many lamps hanging from cords, whose light can be seen through the glass as far as Jerusalem: and their rays are said to stir the hearts of all who see them to zeal and penitence. Each  year of the day of the Lord’s ascension, after mass was said, a fierce blast of wind used to come down and throw to the ground all who were in the church.

He writes thus about Hebron and the tombs of the patriarchs:

Hebron, once a city and the capital of David’s kingdom, now only shows by its ruins what it once was. A furlong away to the east, in the valley, is a double cave where are the tombs of the patriarchs, their heads facing north, surrounded on four sides by a wall. Each one of these tombs is covered by a single stone, hewn after the shape of a church, those of the three patriarchs being white, while that of Adam is darker and of poorer workmanship; he lies not far from them at the farthest end of the northern wall. There are also some smaller and poorer monuments to their three wives. The hill of Mamre is a mile to the north of these tombs, covered with grass and flowers, with a level plateau on the top. On the north side is Abraham’s oak consisting of a trunk only, and twice the height of a man, being enclosed in a church.

I determined to add to this History excerpts from these writings for the benefit of readers. They contain the sense of his words but put more briefly and concisely. If anyone wishes to know more of this book, he may find it in the volume itself and in the abridgement of it which I have lately made.

Book 5: Chapter 19

[Bishop Wilfrid] was a boy of good disposition and virtuous beyond his years. He behaved himself with such modesty and discretion in all things that he was deservedly loved, honoured, and cherished by his elders as though he were one of themselves. After he had reached the age of fourteen, he chose the monastic rather than the secular life. When he told his father this, for his mother was dead, he readily consented to the boy’s godly desires and aspirations and bade him persevere in his profitable undertaking. So he came to the island of Lindisfarne and there devoted himself to the service of the monks, diligently striving to learn how to live a life of monastic purity and devotion. Since he was quick-witted he speedily learned the psalms and a number of other books; although he had not yet been tonsured, he was in no small measure distinguished for the virtues of humility and obedience, which are more important than the tonsure; and for this reason he was rightly loved by the older monks as well as by his contemporaries. After he had served God in that monastery for some years, being a youth of shrewd understanding, he gradually came to realize that the traditional way of virtuous life followed by the Irish was by no means perfect; so he resolved to go to Rome to see what ecclesiastical and monastic practices were observed in the apostolic see. When he told the brothers they commended his plan and persuaded him to carry out his purpose. He at once went to Queen Eanflæd because she knew him and because it was through her counsel and at her request that he had been admitted to the monastery. He told her of his desire to visit the shrines of the blessed apostles. She was delighted with the youth’s excellent plan and sent him to King Eorcenberht of Kent[…]

On returning to Britain, he made friends with King Alhfrith, who had learned always to obey and love the catholic rules of the church. When he found that Wilfrid was also catholic, he at once gave him ten hides in a place called Stamford, and soon afterwards a monastery with thirty hides in a place called Ripon. He had first offered this site to some who followed the Irish ways, so that they might build a monastery there. But when they were given the choice, they preferred to abandon the place rather than accept the catholic Easter and the other canonical rites of the Roman and apostolic church; so he gave it to one whom he found to be trained in better rules and customs.

At this time he was ordained priest at Ripon, on the command of the king, by Agilbert, bishop of the Gewisse, already mentioned, because the king wished that a man of such learning and devotion should be in special and constant attendance upon him as his priest and teacher. Not long after, as already explained, when the Irish sect had been exposed and banished, Alhfrith sent him to Gaul with the counsel and consent of his father Oswiu, requesting that he should be consecrated as his bishop by that same Gilbert who was now acting as bishop of Paris.[…]

At that time Pope Agatho had called a synod of 125 bishops to Rome to testify against those who declared that there was only one will and operation in our Lord and Saviour. He ordered Wilfrid to be called to sit among the bishops, to declare his own faith and that of the kingdom and the island from which he had come. When it was found that he and his people were catholic in their faith, they decided to insert the following words among the rest of the acts: ‘Wilfrid, beloved of God, bishop of the city of York, appealing to the apostolic see concerning his own case and having been freed by its authority from all charges, specified and unspecified, and being appointed to sit in judgement in the synod with 125 other bishops, has confessed the true and catholic faith on behalf of the whole northern part of Britain and Ireland, together with the islands inhabited by the English and British races, as well as the Irish and Picts, and has confirmed it with his signature.’

Book 5: Chapter 22

Not long afterwards, those monks of Irish extraction who lived in Iona, together with the monasteries under their rule, were brought by the Lord’s guidance to canonical usages in the matter of Easter and of the form of the tonsure. In the year of our Lord 716, when Osred was killed and Cenred became ruler of the Northumbrian kingdom, Egbert, beloved of God (a father and priest to be named with all honour and one whom I have often spoken of), came to Iona from Ireland and was most honourably and joyfully received. Being a most gracious teacher and a most devout doer of all that he taught, he was gladly listened to by them all; so by his constant earnest exhortations he converted them from the deep-rooted tradition of their ancestors to whom the apostle’s words apply: ‘They had a zeal of God but not according to knowledge.’ He taught them how to celebrate the chief festival after the catholic and apostolic manner, as has been said, and to wear on their heads the image of the unending crown. It is clear that this happened by a wonderful dispensation of divine mercy, since that race had willingly and ungrudgingly taken pains to communicate its own knowledge and understanding of God to the English nation; and now, through the English nation, they are brought to a more perfect way of life in matters wherein they were lacking. On the other hand the Britons, who would not proclaim to the English the knowledge of the Christian faith which they had, still persist in their errors and stumble in their ways, so that no tonsure is to be seen on their heads and they celebrate Christ’s solemn festivals differently from the fellowship of the Church of Christ, while the English are not only believers but are fully instructed in the rules of the catholic faith.

The monks of Iona accepted the catholic ways of life under the teaching of Egbert, while Dúnchad was abbot, about eighty years after they had sent Bishop Aida to preach to the English. The man of God, Egbert, remained for thirteen years on the island which he had consecrated to Christ, lighting it once more, as it were, with the gracious light of ecclesiastical fellowship and peace. In the year of our Lord 729, when Easter fell on 24 April, after he had celebrated a solemn mass in memory of the Lord’s resurrection, he departed to be with the Lord on the same day. So he began the joyful celebration of the greatest of all festivals with the brothers whom he had converted to the grace of unity, and completed it, or rather continues the endless celebration of it, with the Lord and His apostles and the other citizens of heaven. It was a wonderful dispensation of the divine providence that the venerable man not only passed from his world to the Father on Easter Day, but also when Easter was being celebrated on a date on which it had never before been kept in those places. The brothers rejoiced in the sure knowledge of the time of Easter according to the catholic rule and were glad to have the protection of the father who had corrected them, as he went to be with the Lord. Egbert was also thankful to have lived to see those to whom he had preached accept and keep with him an Easter Day which they had previously always avoided. So the most reverend father, being assured of their conversion, rejoiced to see the day of the Lord; he saw it and was glad.

Book 5: Chapter 23

The Picts now have a treaty of peace with the English and rejoice to share in the catholic peace and truth of the Church universal. The Irish who live in Britain are content with their own territories and devise no plots or treachery against the English. Though, for the most part, the Britons oppose the English through their inbred hatred, and the whole state of the catholic Church by their incorrect Easter and their evil customs, yet being opposed by the power of God and man alike, they cannot obtain what they want in either respect. For although they are partly their own masters, yet they have also been brought partly under the rule of the English.

Book 5: Chapter 24

In order to assist the memory, I have thought it well briefly to recapitulate events already dealt with, each under its particular date.[…]

430. Palladius was sent by Pope Celestinus to be the first bishop of the Irish Christians.

565. The priest Columba came from Ireland to Britain to teach the Picts and established a monastery on Iona.

664. There was an eclipse. King Eorcenberht of Kent died and Colman and his Irish returned to their own people. There was a visitation of the pestilence. Chad and Wilfrid were consecrated bishops of the Northumbrians.

716. Osred, king of Northumbria, was killed, and Ceolred, king of Mercia, died. Egbert, the man of God, converted the monks of Iona to the catholic Easter and corrected their ecclesiastical tonsure.

The Greater Chronicle

The Britons, unable to put up with the problem of the Irish and the Picts, sent to Rome and, promising their submission, begged for help against the enemy. A legion was immediately sent to them which overthrew the great horde of barbarians and expelled others from the borders of Britain.[…]

In the eighth year of Theodosius, Palladius was ordained and sent by pope Celestine to the Irish who believed in Christ, to be their first bishop.

When the Irish and the Picts discovered that the Roman army had left Britain with no intention of returning, they came back again themselves and captured the whole of the island from its indigenous inhabitants, from the far north right up to the wall. Without delay, and with the guardians of the wall defeated, captive, or fugitive and it itself broken, the savage pirates also proceeded through it. In the twenty-third year of the reign of the emperor Theodosius, a letter was sent bearing their [i.e. the Britons’] tears and groans to the most powerful of the Romans, Aetius thrice consul, seeking help. Meanwhile a terrible and very notorious famine attacked the fugitives. Because of this some were forced to surrender to the enemy, but others fought back vigorously from the mountains, caves, and forests, and gave the enemies a defeat. The Irish returned home, though shortly to come back again. The Picts kept hold of the far [i.e. northern] part of the island for the first time and inhabited it thereafter. The above-mentioned hunger was followed by a great opulence of the fruits of the earth, the opulence by luxury and neglect, the neglect by a very severe pestilence, and soon a fiercer plague of new enemies, that is to say the Angles. These they [the Britons] had chosen, by unanimous agreement with their king Vortigern, to invite in as defenders of [their] homeland; but they soon realized that the men they had chosen were attackers and conquerors.[…]

The people of the Angles or of the Saxons came to Britain in three longships; as their undertaking prospered, the fame of it was carried back home. They sent for a stronger army, which joined to the previous one, first of all drove away the enemy that they were seeking [i.e. the Picts and Irish]. Next, turning their arms on their allies, they subjugated virtually the whole of the island by fire or the sword, from the eastern shore as far as the western one, offering as their excuse that the Britons had given them less than sufficient salary for their military services.[…]

At this time pope Honorius condemned in a letter the Quartodeciman error concerning the observance or Easter, which had appeared among the Irish. Also John, who came after Honorius’ successor Severinus, wrote to them, while pope-elect, about this same problem of Easter and about the Pelagian heresy, which was coming to life again amongst them.


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