[#19 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of January 6 – 12]
HIS week in English Catholic History, we celebrate St. Benedict Biscop, whose feast day is January 12th.
St. Benedict was born in Northumbria to a noble family, and it is recorded he was a thane, or secular minister to King Oswiu for a time.
Good company breeds goodness in oneself, and Benedict decided to accompany St. Wilfrid (the Elder) to Rome as a companion at the age of 25. St. Bede the Venerable tells us that by the time the young Benedict left Rome for home, he was “full of fervour and enthusiasm for the good of the English Church.”
Twelve years later, he repeated the journey, this time to satisfy his habit of reading good books, which were more plentiful in Rome. On his way back from Rome, however, Benedict stopped at a monastery on the island of Lérins in France. There he remained for two years, taking monastic vows. Benedict returned to Rome thereafter, and was commissioned by Pope St. Vitalian to accompany Ss Theodore and Adrian (discussed in Issue # 3 of this series) to evangelise the English people. This mission commenced in AD 669.
Benedict was made the abbot of the monastery of Ss Peter and Paul at Canterbury, a role he remained in for two years. During this time, in keeping both with the intellectual Renaissance Ss Theodore and Adrian introduced in England, as well as his own proclivities, St Benedict created an excellent library for his monastery, stocked with both religious as well as the classical works of ancient literature.
In 674, St. Benedict was granted by King Ecgfrith the land he needed to build a monastery in his native Northumbria, naming it St. Peter’s. He went to the continent to recruit the masons he needed to build a splendid monastery in the pre-Romanesque style. His fifth and final journey to Rome in 679 was, again, to buy books – this time for his new monastery – as well as relics of saints to surround his community with the visible remains of that “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews, and privileges for his monastery from Pope Agatho.
Returning from this journey, Benedict also brought with him Abbot John of St. Martin’s Abbey in Rome. From John, the monks learned how to perform the Roman rubrics and how to read and write Latin in Roman script.
The monastery was a great success, providing the country with the tangible presence of holiness and an ascetic lifestyle for men who wished to pursue this austere mode of life in service to God. King Ecgfrith therefore asked St. Benedict to build a second monastery, which he did at Jarrow, most famous as the abode of the Venerable St. Bede himself, who provides us with so much valuable information about the English Church of this period. Bede actually knew St. Benedict Biscop himself and learned from him. It is from Bede’s pen that we receive almost all our information about his holy master. Jarrow was also the first monastery in the British Isles to be constructed in stone.
We read that Benedict suffered a long illness at the end of his life that left him bed-ridden for three years until his death in 690. Today relics of St. Benedict Biscop can be found in the cities of Thorney and Glastonbury. He is honored today as a patron of the English Benedictines, and of the fine arts which he spent so much care in bringing to England to civilise it. His primary contribution was in bringing the worship and level of culture and technology of the English Church into unity (or catholicity) with that of Rome and the rest of the continent, thereby strengthening both his island home and enriching greater Christendom.
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Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter © 2018.
John (wearing purple tie, above) is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster (wearing golden tie, above) holds a Doctorate in Medicine from Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.