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Bede, the Venerable:
The Lives of The Holy Abbots of Weremouth and Jarrow, continued

But, amid this prosperity, he found afflictions also awaiting his return. The venerable Easterwine, whom he had made abbot when he departed, and many of the brethren committed to his care, had died of a general pestilence. But for this loss he found some consolation in the good and reverend deacon, Sigfrid, whom the brethren and his co-abbot Ceolfrid had chosen to be his successor. He was a man well skilled in the knowledge of Holy Scripture of most excellent manners, of wonderful continence, and one in whom the virtues of the mind were in no small degree depressed by bodily infirmity, and the innocency of whose heart was tempered with a baneful and incurable affection of the lungs.

Not long after, Benedict himself was seized by a disease. For, that the virtue of patience might be a trial of their religious zeal, the Divine Love laid both of them on the bed of temporal sickness, that when they had conquered their sorrows by death, He might cherish them for ever in heavenly peace and quietude. For Sigfrid also, as I have mentioned, died wasted by a long illness: and Benedict died of a palsy, which grew upon him for three whole years; so that when he was dead in all his lower extremities, his upper and vital members, spared to show his patience and virtue, were employed in the midst of his sufferings in giving thanks to the Author of his being, in praises to God, and exhortations to the brethren. He urged the brethren, when they came to see him, to observe the rule which he had given them. "For," said he, "you cannot suppose that it was my own untaught heart which dictated this rule to you. I learnt it from seventeen monasteries, which I saw during my travels, and most approved of, and I copied these institutions thence for your benefit. "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. But on one point he was most solicitous, in choosing an abbot, lest high birth, and not rather probity of life and doctrines should be attended to. "And I tell you of a truth," said he, "in the choice of two evils, it would be much more tolerable for me, if God so pleased, that this place, wherein I have built the monastery, should for ever become a desert, than that my carnal brother, who, as we know, walks not in the way of truth, should become abbot, and succeed me in its government. Wherefore, my brethren, beware, and never choose an abbot on account of his birth, nor from any foreign place; but seek out, according to the rule of Abbot Benedict the Great, and the decrees of our order, with common consent, from amongst your own company, whoever in virtue of life and wisdom of doctrine may be found fittest for this office; and whomsoever you shall, by this unanimous inquiry of Christian charity, prefer and choose, let him be made abbot with the customary blessings, in presence of the bishop. For those who after the flesh beget children of the flesh, must necessarily seek fleshly and earthly heirs to their fleshly and earthly inheritance; but those who by the spiritual seed of the Word procreate spiritual sons to God, must of like necessity be spiritual in every thing which they do. Among their spiritual children, they think him the greatest who is possessed of the most abundant grace of the Spirit, in the same way as earthly parents consider their eldest as the principal one of their children, and prefer him to the others in dividing out their inheritance."

Nor must I omit to mention that the venerable Abbot Benedict, to lessen the wearisomeness of the night, which from his illness he often passed without sleeping, would frequently call a reader, and cause him to read aloud, as an example for himself, the history of the patience of Job, or some other extract from Scripture, by which his pains might be alleviated, and his depressed soul be raised to heavenly things. And because he could not get up to pray, nor without difficulty lift up his voice to the usual extent of daily psalmody, the prudent man, in his zeal for religion, at every hour of daily or nightly prayer would call to him some of the brethren, and making them sing psalms in two companies, would himself sing with them, and thus make up by their voices for the deficiency of his own.

Now both the abbots saw that they were near death, and unfit longer to rule the monastery, from increasing weakness which, though tending no doubt to the perfection of Christian purity, was so great, that, when they expressed a desire to see one another before they died, and Sigfrid was brought in a litter into the room where Benedict was lying on his bed, though they were placed by the attendants with their heads on the same pillow, they had not the power of their own strength to kiss one another, but were assisted even in this act of fraternal love. After taking counsel with Sigfrid and the other brethren, Benedict sent for Ceolfrid, abbot of St. Paul's, dear to him not by relationship of the flesh, but by the ties of Christian virtue, and with the consent and approbation of all, made him abbot of both monasteries; thinking it expedient in every respect to preserve peace, unity, and concord between the two, if they should have one father and ruler for ever, after the example of the kingdom of Israel, which always remained invincible and inviolate by foreign nations as long as it was ruled by one and the same governor of its own race; but when for its former sins it was torn into opposing factions, it-fell by degrees, and, thus shorn of its ancient integrity, perished. He reminded them also of that evangelical maxim, ever worthy to be remembered,-"A kingdom divided against itself shall be laid waste." ,

Two months after this, God's chosen servant, the venerable Abbot Sigfrid, having passed through the fire and water of temporal tribulation, was carried to the resting - place of everlasting repose: he entered the mansion of the heavenly kingdom, rendering up whole offerings of praise to the Lord which his righteous lips had vowed; and after another space of four months, Benedict, who so nobly vanquished sin and wrought the deeds of virtue, yielded to the weakness of the flesh, and came to his end. Night came on chilled by the winter's blasts, but a day of eternal felicity succeeded, of serenity and of splendour. The brethren met together at the church, and passed the night without sleep in praying and singing, consoling their sorrow for their father's departure by one continued out-pouring of praise. Others clung to the chamber in which the sick man, strong in mind, awaited his departure from death and his entry into eternal life. A portion of Scripture from the Gospels, appointed to be read every evening, was recited by a priest during the whole night, to relieve their sorrow. The sacrament of our Lord s flesh and blood was given him.as a viaticum at the moment of his departure; and thus his holy spirit, chastened and tried by the lengthened gallings of the lash, operating for his own good, abandoned the earthy tenement of the flesh, and escaped in freedom to the glory of everlasting happiness. That his departure was most triumphant, and neither impeded nor delayed by unclean spirits, the psalm which was chanted for him is a proof. For the brethren coming together to the church at the beginning of the night, sang through the Psalter in order, until they came to the 82nd, which begins, "God, who shall be like unto thee? "The subject of the text is this; that the enemies of the Christian name, whether carnal or spiritual, are always endeavouring to destroy and disperse the church of Christ, and every individual soul among the faithful; but that, on the other hand, they themselves shall be confounded and routed, and shall perish for ever, unnerved before the power of the Lord, to whom there is no one equal, for He alone is Most Highest over the whole earth. Wherefore it was a manifest token of Divine interposition, that such a song should be sung at the moment of his death, against whom, with God's aid, no enemy could prevail. In the sixteenth year after he built the monastery, the holy confessor found rest in the Lord, on the 14th day of January, in the church of St. Peter; and thus, as he had loved that holy Apostle in his life, and obtained from him admission into the heavenly kingdom, so also after death he rested hard by his relics, and his altar, even in the body. He ruled the monastery, as I have stated, sixteen years: the first eight alone, without any assistant abbot; the last eight in conjunction with Easterwine, Sigfrid, and Ceolfrid, who enjoyed with him the title of abbot, and assisted him in his duties. The first of these was his colleague four years; the second, three; the third, one.

The third of these, Ceolfrid, was a man of great perseverance of acute intellect, bold in action, experienced in judgment, and zealous in religion. He first of all, as we have mentioned, with the advice and assistance of Benedict, founded, completed, and ruled the monastery of St. Paul's seven years; and, afterwards, ably governed, during twenty-eight years, both these monasteries; or, to speak more correctly, the single monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, in its two separate localities; and, whatever works of merit his predecessor had begun, he, with no less zeal took pains to finish. For, among other arrangements which he found it necessary to make, during his long government of the monastery, he built several oratories increased the number of vessels of the church and altar and the vestments of every kind; and the library of both monasteries, which Abbot Benedict had so actively begun under his equally zealous care became doubled in extent For he added three Pandects of a new translation to that of the old translation which he had brought from Rome; one of them, returning to Rome in his old age, he took with him as a gift; the other two he left to the two monasteries. Moreover, for a beautiful volume of the Geographers which Benedict had bought at Rome, he received from King Alfrid, who was well skilled in Holy Scripture, in exchange, a grant of land of eight hides, near the river Fresca, for the monastery of St. Paul's. Benedict had arranged this purchase with the same King Alfrid, before his death, but died before he could complete it. Instead of this land, Ceolfrid, in the reign of Osred, paid an additional price, and received a territory of twenty hides, in the village called by the natives Sambuce, and situated much nearer to the monastery. In the time of Pope Sergius, of blessed memory, some monks were sent to Rome, who procured from him a privilege for the protection of their monastery, similar to that which Pope Agatho had given to Benedict. This was brought back to Britain, and, being exhibited before a synod, was confirmed by the signatures of the bishops who were present, and their munificent King Alfrid, just as the former privilege was con firmed publicly by the king and bishops of the time. Zealous for the welfare of St. Peter's monastery, at that time under the government of the reverend and religious servant of Christ, Witmer, whose acquaintance with every kind of learning, both sacred and profane, was equally extensive, he made a gift of it for ever of a portion of land of ten hides, which he had received from King Alfrid, in the village called Daldun.

But Ceolfrid having now practised a long course of regular discipline, which the prudent father Benedict bad laid down for himself and his brethren on the authority of the elders; and having shown the most incomparable skill both in praying and chanting, in which he daily exercised himself, together with the most wonderful energy in punishing the wicked, and modesty in consoling the weak; having also observed such abstinence in meat and drink, and such humility in dress, as are uncommon among rulers; saw himself now old and full of days, and unfit any longer, from his extreme age, to prescribe to his brethren the proper forms of spiritual exercise by his life and doctrine. Having, therefore, deliberated long within himself, he judged it expedient, having first impressed on the brethren the observance of the rules which St. Benedict had given them, and thereby to choose for themselves a more efficient abbot out of their own number, to depart, himself, to Rome, where he had been in his ' youth with the holy Benedict; that not only he might for a time be free from all worldly cares before his death, and so have leisure and quiet for reflection, but that they also, having chosen a younger abbot, might naturally, in con sequence thereof, observe more accurately the rules of monastic discipline.

At first all opposed, and entreated him on their knees and with many tears, but their solicitations were to no purpose. Such was his eagerness to depart, that on the third day after he had disclosed his design to the brethren, he set out upon his journey. For he feared, what actually came to pass, that he might die before he reached Rome; and he was also anxious that neither his friends nor the nobility, who all honoured him, should delay his departure, or give him money which he would not have time to repay; for with him it was an invariable rule, if any one made him a present, to show equal grace by returning it, either at once or within a suitable space of time. Early in the morning, therefore, of Wednesday, the 4th of May, the mass was sung in the church of the Mother of God, the immaculate Virgin Mary, and in the church of the Apostle ; Peter; and those who were present communicating with him, he prepared for his departure. All of them assembled in St. Peter's church; and when he had lighted the frankincense, and addressed a prayer at the altar, he gave his blessing to all, standing on the steps and holding the censer in his hand. Amid the prayers of the Litany, the cry of sorrow resounded from all as they went out of the church: they entered the oratory of St. Laurence the martyr, which was in the dormitory of the brethren over against them. Whilst giving them his last farewell, he admonished them to preserve love towards one another and to correct, according to the Gospel rule, those who did amiss: he forgave all of them whatever wrong they might have done him; and entreated them all to pray for him, and to be reconciled to him, if he had ever reprimanded them too harshly. They went down to the shore and there, amid tears and lamentations, he gave them the kiss of peace, as they knelt upon their knees; and when he had offered up a prayer he went on board the vessel with his companions. The deacons of the Church went on board with him, carrying lighted tapers and a golden crucifix. Having crossed the river, he kissed the cross, mounted his horse, and departed, leaving in both his monasteries about six hundred brethren.

When he was gone, the brethren returned to the church and with much weeping and prayer commended themselves and theirs to the protection of the Lord. After a short interval, having ended the nine o'clock psalm, they again assembled, and deliberated what was to be done. At length they resolved, with prayer, hymns, and fasting, to seek of the Lord a new abbot as soon as possible. This resolution they communicated to their brethren of St. Paul's, by some of that monastery who were present, and also by some of their own people. They immediately gave their consent, and both monasteries showing the same spirit, they all together lifted up their hearts and voices to the Lord. At length, on the third day, which was Easter Sunday, an assembly was held, consisting of all the brethren of St. Peter's and several of the elder monks from the monastery of St. Paul's. The greatest concord prevailed, and the same sentiments were expressed by both. They elected for their new abbot, Huetbert, who from his boyhood had not only been bred up in the regular discipline of the monastery, but had acquired much experience in the various duties of writing, chanting, reading. and teaching. He had been at Rome in the time of pope Sergius, of blessed memory, and had there learnt and copied every thing which he thought useful or worthy to be brought away. He had also been twelve years in priest's orders. He was now made abbot; and immediately went with some of the brethren to Ceolfrid, who was waiting for a ship in which to cross the ocean. They told him what they had done, for which he gave thanks to God, in approbation of their choice, and received from his successor a l letter of recommendation to Pope Gregory, of which I have preserved the few passages which follow.

"To our most beloved lord in the Lord of lords, and thrice blessed Pope Gregory, Huetbert, his most humble servant, abbot of the monastery of the holiest of the Apostles, St. Peter, in Saxony, Health for ever in the' Lord ! I do not cease to give thanks to the dispensation of Divine wisdom, as do also all the holy brethren, who in these parts are seeking with me to bear the pleasant yoke of Christ, that they may find rest to their souls, that God has condescended to appoint so glorious a vessel of election to rule the Church in these our times; and by means of the light of truth and faith with which you are full, to scatter the beams of his love on all your inferiors a also We recommend to your holy clemency, most be loved father and lord in Christ, the grey hairs of our venerable and beloved father Abbot Ceolfrid, the supporter and defender of our spiritual liberty and peace in this monastic retirement; and, in the first place, we give ; < thanks to the holy and undivided Trinity, for that, although he hath caused us much sorrow, lamentation, and tears, by his departure, he hath nevertheless arrived at the enjoyment of that rest which he long desired; whilst he was in his old age devoutly returning to that threshold of the holy Apostles, which he exultingly boasted, that when a youth he had visited, seen, and worshipped. After more s than forty years of care and toil, during his government of the monasteries, by his wonderful love of virtue, as if recently incited to conversation with the heavenly life, though worn out with extreme old age, and already almost at the gates of death, he a second time undertakes to travel in the cause of Christ, that the thorns of his former secular anxieties may be consumed by the fire of zeal blazing forth from that spiritual furnace. We next entreat your fatherly love, that, though we have not merited to do this, you will carefully fulfil towards him the last offices; knowing for certain, that though you may possess his body, yet both we and you shall have in his devout spirit, whether in the body or out of the body, a mighty intercessor and protector over our own last moments, at the throne of grace." And so on through the rest of the letter.

When Huetbert had returned to the monastery, Bishop Acca was sent for to confirm the election with his blessing. Afterwards, by his youthful zeal and wisdom, he gained many privileges for the monastery; and, amongst others, one which gave great delight to all, he took up the bones of Abbot Easterwine, which lay in the entrance porch of St. Peter's, and also the bones of his old preceptor, Abbot Sigfrid, which had been buried outside the Sacrarium to wards the south, and placing both together in one chest, but separated by a partition, laid them within the church near the body of St. Benedict. He did this on Sigfrid's birthday, the 23rd of August; and on the same day Divine Providence so ordered that Christ's venerable servant Wit mer, whom we have already mentioned, departed this life, and was buried in the same place as the aforesaid abbots, whose life he had imitated.

But Christ's servant Ceolfrid, as has been said, died on his way to the threshold of the holy Apostles, of old age and weakness. For he reached the Lingones about nine o'clock, where he died seven hours after, and was honourably buried the next day in the church of the three twin martyrs, much to the sorrow, not only of the English who were in his train, to the number of eighty, but also of the neighbouring inhabitants, who were dissolved in tears at the loss of the reverend father. For it was almost impossible to avoid weeping to see part of his company continuing their journey without the holy father, whilst others, abandoning their first intentions, returned home to relate his death and burial; and others, again, lingered in sorrow at the tomb of the deceased among strangers speaking an unknown tongue.

Ceolfrid was seventy-four years old when he died: forty seven years he had been in priest's orders, during thirty five of which he had been abbot; or, to speak more correctly, forty-three,-for, from the time when Benedict began to build his monastery in honour of the holiest of the Apostles, Ceolfrid had been his only companion, coadjutor, and teacher of the monastic rules. He never relaxed the rigour of ancient discipline from any occasions of old age, illness, or travel; for, from the day of his departure till the day of his death, i.e. from the 4th of June till the 25th of September, a space of one hundred and fourteen days, besides the canonical hours of prayer, he never omitted to go twice daily through the Psalter in order; and even when he became so weak that he could not ride on horseback, and was obliged to be carried in a horse litter, the holy ceremony of the mass was offered up every day, except one which he passed at sea, and the three days immediately before his death.

He died on Friday, the 25th of September, in the year of our Lord 715, between three and four o'clock, in the fields of the city before mentioned, and was buried the next day near the first milestone on the south side of the city, in the monastery of the Twins, followed by a large number of his English attendants, and the inhabitants of the city and monastery. The names of these twin martyrs are Speusippus, Eleusippus, and Meleusippus. They were born at one birth, and born again by baptism at the same time: together with their aunt Leonella, they left behind them the holy remembrance of their martyrdom; and I pray that they may bestow upon my unworthy self, and upon our holy father, the benefit of their intercession and protection.

Source: Bede, The Lives of the Holy Abbots of Weremouth and Jarrow, taken from Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, trans. J.A. Giles, Everyman's Library 479,(London: J.M. Dent; New York: E.P. Dutton, 1910), 349-366

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Reproduced by kind permission of The Medieval Source Book