Benedict Biscop (DNB00)

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BENEDICT BISCOP (628?–690), also called Biscop Baducing (Eddius, Vita Wilfridi c. 3), founder of monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow, was an Angle of noble birth (Beda, v. 19, and Vita Abbat. i.), possibly of the royal race of the Lindisfari (Flor. Worc. Mon. Hist. Brit. 631 ). He became a 'minister' or thegn of Oswiu, king of Northumbria, who bestowed land upon him. But in 653, being then about twenty-five, he resolved to abandon the world and set out for Rome. At Canterbury he fell in with Wilfrith, who was about six years younger than himself and desired to visit Rome. The two travelled together as far as Lyons, where Wilfrith tarried, and Benedict went on to Rome. After sojourning some years there he returned to Northumbria, where he strove to introduce the Roman system of ecclesiastical life. About 665 he started on a second visit to Rome. Alchfrith, the son of king Oswiu, wished to accompany him, but was forbidden by his father (Beda, V, Abb. c. 2). After sending some months in Rome, Benedict retired for two years to the monastery of Lerins (an island off the south coast of Gaul), where he became a monk, and then returned to Rome in 667, just when Wighard arrived to be consecrated archbishop of Canterbury. Wighard, however, died very soon, and Theodore of Tarsus was elected and consecrated in his stead March 668. The pope, Vitalian, appointed Benedict to conduct Theodore to Canterbury, which they reached at the end of May 669. Archbishop Theodore made him abbot of St. Peter's in Canterbury, over which he presided for two years, and then made a third visit to Rome for the purpose of buying books, of which he collected a large number, partly in Rome, partly at Vienne. In 672 he returned to England, intending to visit his friend Cenwealh, king of the West Saxons ; but hearing that he was dead, he made for Northumbria, where Ecgfrith, the son of Oswiu, had become king, He set about zealously instructing his countrymen in the learning and religious discipline in which he had himself been trained. Ecgfrith warmly aided him in his work, and gave him seventy hides of land out of his own demesne near the mouth of the river Wear on the north side, where, by Ecgfrith's orders, he began building the monastery of St. Peter's in 674 (Bed. Vit Abbat. c. 3-4). The structure was fashioned in what was called the 'Roman' style, then prevalent throughout Western Europe, being a provincial adaptation of the old classical Roman forms. Benedict himself visited Gaul in order to engage skilled masons and glassmakers, the art of glazing windows being then unknown in England (Bed. Vit, Abb, c. 5). The work was pushed on with such diligence, that within a year from its foundation mass was celebrated within the walls of the church. Having settled the constitution of his house, he paid a fourth visit to Rome in 678, in order to procure more books, besides vessels, vestments, images, and pictures, of which he brought back a large store. He also obtained the services of John, the archchanter of St. Peter's and abbot of St. Martin at Rome, who returned with him to instruct his monks in music and ritual according to the Roman use. But what he deemed most valuable of all was a letter from the pope Agatho, granted with the full consent of king Ecgfrith, exempting his monastery from all external control. The king soon afterwards granted 40 hides of land for the erection of a sister monastery which Benedict established at Jarrow and dedicated to St. Paul. Here he placed seventeen monks in 682 under Ceolfrith as their abbot, who had energetically assisted him from the beginning in founding the other monastery, and had visited Rome. He himself presided over the elder house at Wearmouth, adopting his cousin Eosterwine as a colleague. Having thus settled both monasteries, he visited Rome for the fifth time, and procured a large collection of books, vestments, and pictures for Jarrow. On his return (about 687) he found that king Ecgfrith had been slain in battle (685), and that Eosterwine and a large number of his monks had died of a pestilence. Ceolfrith and the other monks had elected Sigfrith to take the place of Eosterwine. Benedict confirmed their choice, and bought three acres of land on the south side of the Wear from king Aldfrith (successor to Ecgfrith) [q. v.], for which he gave two silk pallia of splendid workmanship which he had brought from Rome ({sc|Beda}}, V. Abb. c. 7, 8). Soon after this Benedict's health broke down, and for the last three years of his life he was paralysed in the lower limbs. Abbot Sigfrith also gradually wasted away from some internal disease. Shortly before his death in 689 he was carried to the bedside of Benedict for a final interview, who then, with the consent of the monks, appointed Ceolfrith abbot of both houses. Benedict's mind, however, continued to be clear and vigorous to the end, and the last days of his life were spent in exhorting the brethren to hold fast to the pure Benedictine rule which he had taught tnhm, having himself visited seventeen continental monusteries; to preserve the large and costly library which he had procured for them with so much pains, and in all future elections of abbots to take care to choose the fittest man without any regard to the claims of kindred or high birth. During his sleepless nights the brethren read the Bible to him in turns, and at the hours of prayer by day and night he continued to join, as well as he was able, in the recitation of the psalms. He died on 12 Jan. 690 as the monks were repeating the 83rd Psalm ('Deus, quis similis erit tibi ?'), in the sixteenth year after the foundation of the first monastery, and (about) the sixty-second year of his age. He was buried in the church of St. Peter at Wearmouth. In the 10th cent., 964, Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester, bought his bones at a great price, and conveved them to his new abbey of Thorney. Benedict was undoubtedly a man of pure and lofty character, animated by the warmest zeal for the promotion of piety and learning, unalloyed, so far as we can see, by the spirit of ambition and self-assertion which are too conspicuous in his friend Wilfrith [see Wilfrith]. He was thus a great benefactor to his own age and country, and all subsequent ages owe him a debt of gratitude for founding the monastery which was the home of the saint and historian, the Venerable Bede.

[Bede's H. E. v. 19, and Hist. Abbatum, c. 1-12; Will. of Malmesbury's Great. Pont. iv. § 186; Mabillon's Acta Sanct. O.S.B. sæc. ii. 1000-1012; Boll. Acta Sanct. 1 Jan. 745, 746.]

W. R. W. S.