Friday, 20 May 2011

Saint Bede the Venerable

St Bede the Venerable
Happy feast day of our only English Doctor of the Church.

In celebration, here is offered part of the entry for Saint Bede from my third published book ‘The Crown of the Year’ (available on Amazon).

By selecting a plant for each day of the Liturgical year, the books demonstrate the inextricable links between prayer and gardening and the lore of plants, trees and herbs. Plants can help you to pray even if you only have a window box, or indeed no garden at all. So why did I choose this shrub for St. Bede?

Saint Bede and the Candleberry

I have chosen the Candleberry because its name associates it with light, and because the berry wax provides aromatic tallow from which candles are made. As author of the ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’, which he completed in 731, Bede sheds light on our early Christian Past. He had a special delight in learning and teaching and spread this through his writing. His emblem is a gold pitcher, with light from heaven, indicated by silver rays emanating from the gold centre, on a blue field.

Candleberry/Wax Myrtle
He was born near the monastery at Wearmouth, was educated by St. Benet Biscop and was ordained in about 703. He was apparently musical, liked singing and was coherent, modest and detached. Dante referred to him in the ‘Paradiso’, and St Boniface said that at Bede’s death ‘the candle of the Church lit by the Holy Spirit had been extinguished’. St Cuthbert (c.634-87) wrote that ‘the English should thank God that He gave them so marvellous a man’. Cuthbert regarded Bede as a saint while he lived, and it is thanks to a letter of his to a fellow teacher named Cuthwin, that we know of St. Bede’s attitude and behaviour during his last illness. Although mortally ailing he continued to sing the Offices, to teach and to work on a translation of St John’s Gospel and on excerpts from ‘The Book of Cycles’ by St Isidore. In regard to the latter, he considered it important that his students should be left with an accurate translation so that after his death their understanding of the text would not be faulty.

On the Tuesday before Ascension Day, Bede’s breathing became more laboured, but he taught all day and then spent the night in thanksgiving. On the following day he worked again with his students and then distributed to the priests of the monastery, as little gifts, the few possessions he had accumulated – pepper, handkerchiefs and incense. He asked for Masses and prayers in return and warned them that he would not survive much longer. They wept at this but rejoiced at something else he said: “I have lived a long time and the Holy Judge has provided well for me during my whole life. The time of my release is near; indeed my soul longs to see Christ my king in all His beauty.” At about Vespers time on Bede’s last day, he was asked by his pupil Wilbur to complete the last sentence of the translation they had been working on. When this had been done, apparently in Bede’s cell, he asked the boy: “Take my head in your hands, for it pleases me very much to sit opposite my holy place where I used to pray, so that as I sit there I may call upon my Father.” And so, ‘on the floor of his cell, singing: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit” and the rest, he breathed out his spirit from his body.’

St. Bede the Venerable has the distinction of being the only English Doctor of the Church, but it was not until 1899 that Pope Leo XIII conferred this honour upon him. His remains are in the Galilee chapel in Durham Cathedral, where there is a burial slab. In the 20th century Dean Allinton placed a memorial on the wall behind it, inscribed with some of Bede’s own words from his commentary on the Book of Revelation:
“Christ is the morning star who when the night of this world is past, brings to His saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day.”

(Copyright Jane Mossendew 2005) Posted by Thoughts From an Oasis of French Catholicism


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