The collect for a Doctor of the Church, Poet, or Scholar, on the Feast of Saint Benedict Biscop (c. 628-89), Founder of the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, Scholar, Patron of the Arts, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962);
O GOD, who by thy Holy Spirit hast given unto one man a word of wisdom, and to another a word of knowledge, and to another the gift of tongues: We praise thy Name for the gifts of grace manifested in thy servant Benedict Biscop, and we pray that thy Church may never be destitute of the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Saint Benedict Biscop is remembered as a church leader instrumental in preserving and disseminating Western civilisation during the so-called “Dark Ages”.
Born into a noble Northumbrian family, Benedict spent many years in Frankish monasteries, becoming a monk at the Abbey of Lérins, off the southern coast of France. He also travelled to Rome six times. At the conclusion of his third visit in 668, he accompanied St. Theodore of Tarsus, the Greek monk newly commissioned as Archbishop of Canterbury, to England. For two years, Benedict served as abbot of the monastery of St. Peter & St. Paul (later St. Augustine’s), Canterbury, but soon wanted to establish his own foundation.
Receiving papal approval to establish monasteries in Northumbria, Benedict founded the twin monasteries of St. Peter’s at Wearmouth in 674 and St. Paul’s at Jarrow in 681. He travelled to Rome and returned with an “innumerable collection of books of all kinds”. He also brought with him John the Chanter, Archcantor of St. Peter’s, Rome, who taught the monks the Roman liturgy and Gregorian chant.
On subsequent journeys to Rome, Benedict collected service books, biblical manuscripts, prayer books, patristic texts, commentaries on the Scriptures, and books of monastic practices. He also acquired pictures of the Virgin Mary and the apostles, scenes from the Gospels, relics of saints and martyrs, silks, and tapestries. These he brought back to England for use in his and other monasteries.
One of the pupils at Benedict’s monastery school was the seven year-old Bede, whose The Ecclesiastical History of the English People is the principal source of information about St. Benedict Biscop.
During the last three years of his life, Benedict was bed-ridden with paralysis. As he was dying, he summoned his monks and urged them to follow the Benedictine Rule he had taught them. In his Lives of the Abbots, Bede also says: “The large and noble library, which he had brought from Rome, and which was necessary for the edification of his church, he commanded to be kept entire, and neither by neglect to be injured or dispersed.”
St. Bede the Venerable wrote his celebrated historical works in the library assembled by St. Benedict Biscop.
Artwork: St. Benedict Biscop, stained glass, The Bauchon Chapel of Our Lady of Pity, Norwich Cathedral, Norwich. Photograph taken by admin, 3 October 2014.