Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Eadfrid

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EADFRID or EADFRITH (d. 721), bishop of Lindisfarne, was a monk of Lindisfarne and an ardent disciple of St. Cuthberht. That saint died in 687, and eleven years afterwards, in 698, Eadfrid succeeded to his bishopric, and held the see until his death in 721. He is described by Symeon as a ‘pious and worthy bishop,’ but nearly his whole history is connected with the monastery of Lindisfarne, over which he continued to rule. He was one of the monastic bishops of the Celtic type rather than the more active Roman organisers. Though, as an Englishman who lived after the synod of Whitby, he was orthodox in regard to the questions which had separated the two churches, he lived in the spirit of the Columbas and Aidans. We only know of two facts concerning him not connected with Lindisfarne. He is probably the ‘Eahfrid’ to whom, on his return from Ireland, Aldhelm addressed a long and hardly intelligible letter (Aldhelmi, Opera, pp. 91–5, ed. Giles). He is also mentioned as the counsellor and friend of Eanmund, the Northumbrian noble whom the tyranny of King Osred drove into some monastery dedicated to St. Peter. Eadfrid entertained the fugitive, gave him pious instruction, and, at his own request, furnished him with a teacher for his monastery (Æthelwulf, Carmen de abbatibus cellæ suæ, in Symeon, i. 270, ed. Arnold). But as this monastery was probably a cell of Lindisfarne, Eadfrid acted as much in the capacity of abbot as of bishop. The rest of his acts are in direct relation to his island home.

The great object of Eadfrid's life was to promote the honour of his master Cuthberht. He restored the rude oratory in which Cuthberht had spent his hermit life in Farne Island, and which, though still tenanted by Felgild, the second in succession to the saint, had fallen into great disrepair. He showed equal anxiety to commit to writing the records of Cuthberht's fame. At his instance and that of the whole ‘family’ of Lindisfarne the anonymous author of the ‘Life of St. Cuthberht,’ himself plainly a monk of the same house, was inspired to write his biography (Bædæ Omnia Opera, vi. 357, ed. Giles). The much more important work of Bæda, ‘De Vita et Miraculis S. Cuthberti,’ was also due to the urgent solicitation of Eadfrid and the ‘congregation of brothers who serve Christ in Lindisfarne,’ whose elders and teachers read it through before it was published, and in reward for which Eadfrid promised for Bæda the prayers and masses of the monks, and the enrolment of his name in the books of the monastery. Bæda's other life of Cuthberht, in heroic verse, was equally the result of the request of some of the monks, and in his preface to the prose life he offers to transmit a copy to Eadfrid (ib. iv. 202–7).

In the famous Lindisfarne gospels (Cotton MS. Nero, D. iv.) there occurs a note at the end of the gospel of St. John (f. 258), thus translated by Mr. Skeat: ‘Eadfrith, bishop of the Lindisfarne church, was he who at the first wrote this book in honour of God and St. Cuthberht and all the saints in common that are in the island. And Ethilwaed, bishop of the people of the Lindisfarne island, made it firm on the outside, and covered it as well as he could. And Billfrith, the anchorite, he wrought in smith's work the ornaments on the outside. And Aldred, an unworthy and most miserable priest, glossed it above in English.’ Again, at the beginning of St. Mark's gospel (f. 88 b) is a shorter entry: ‘Thou living God, be mindful of Eadfrid, and Ædilwald, and Billfrid, and Aldred, sinners; these four, with God's help, were employed upon this book.’ This notice, though written in the tenth century by Aldred the glossator [q. v.], is very strong evidence that the foundation work of this remarkable manuscript is due to Eadfrid. It consists of Jerome's Latin version of the four gospels, with the epistle to Damasus, the Eusebian canons, and similar usual appendages. It is written very beautifully in half-uncial letters on stout vellum. The remarkable beauty of the illuminations proves Eadfrid to have been a consummate artist for his time.

On his death in 721 Eadfrid's bones were placed in the shrine where the uncorrupted body of St. Cuthberht lay, and shared the wanderings of the greater saint, and finally rested with his relics at Durham, where they were discovered on the translation of Cuthberht's remains to the new cathedral erected by Ranulf Flambard in 1104. The ‘Book of St. Cuthberht,’ as the Lindisfarne gospels were commonly called, shared in the same vicissitudes. It was believed at Durham that when in 875 Bishop Eardulf carried the shrine of Cuthberht all over Northumberland to save it from Halfdene and his Danes, the precious manuscript accompanied the flight. In attempting to cross over to Ireland it was lost overboard, and when recovered three days afterwards, on the coast off Whithern, miraculously retained its original freshness and beauty. It was from the eleventh or twelfth century preserved at Durham, where it was described in inventories as ‘the Book of St. Cuthberht which had been sunk in the sea.’ It was ultimately acquired by Sir Robert Cotton, and is now in the British Museum. But though some have detected in the few faint stains on the vellum the marks of sea water, they are so slight that nothing less than a miracle could have saved the book if the tradition above related be true.

The Latin text of Eadfrid's manuscript has been published, along with the Northumbrian glosses of Aldred, by J. Stevenson and G. Waring for the Surtees Society (1854–65), and more accurately in the Cambridge Press, the gospel of St. Matthew being edited by J. M. Kemble and C. Hardwick, the other three by Professor Skeat (1858–78). K. W. Bouterwek, who in 1857 published the gloss in ‘Die vier Evangelien in alt-northumbrischer Sprache,’ printed portions of the text as well in his ‘Screadunga Anglo-Saxonica’ (1858).

[Symeon of Durham, i. 37, 38, 68, 252, 270 ed. Arnold, in Rolls Ser.; Florence of Worcester, i. 45, 60 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Bædæ Pref. in Vit. S. Cuth.; Catalogue of Ancient Manuscripts in the British Museum, pt. ii. Latin, pp. 15–8, gives a description of the Lindisfarne gospels (Cotton MS. Nero, D. iv.) with facsimiles. Among the other very numerous descriptions of the manuscripts, the following, which also give facsimiles, may be specially referred to: Westwood's Palæographia Sacra Pictoria, No. 45; Westwood's Facsimiles of the Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish MSS., pl. xii and xiii; the Palæographical Society's Facsimiles of MSS. and Inscriptions, pl. 3–6 and 22. The questions connected with Eadfrid's life and works are also fully discussed in Mr. Waring's and Professor Skeat's Prefaces to the Surtees and Cambridge editions of the gospels.]

T. F. T.