When God Came to England
The remote monastery at Jarrow, nestled on a spit of land extending into the river Tyne, was only a few years old when the plague hit in 686. Every monk succumbed to the pestilence except Abbot Ceolfrid and a "little lad" who had been made a ward of the monastery. Most scholars identify the "little lad" as Bede. The young survivor, if not yet "venerable," was resilient.
Relatively little else is known of Bede's life. Most direct information we possess derives from Bede's own abbreviated account of his life at the end of his most famous work, the Ecclesiastical History. Beyond the fact that he was a "priest of the monastery of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul at Wearmouth and Jarrow," Bede offers only the following pithy autobiographical fragment:
"I was born on the lands of this monastery, and on reaching seven years of age, I was entrusted by my family first to the most reverend Abbot Benedict and later to Abbot Ceolfrid for my education. I have spent all the remainder of my life in this monastery and devoted myself entirely to the study of the Scriptures."
Based on the date given for the completion of the Ecclesiastical History, Bede was born in 673. He spent his formative years in the cloister at the twin monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, founded by Benedict Biscop in 674 and 681, at the mouth of the two rivers.
In many respects, Bede was a typical monk. Excavations have revealed that he probably lived in a small cell, with much of his day governed by the monastic office—meeting with his fellow monks seven times a day and once a night to sing or read the Scriptures. He saw these meetings as more than just a routine, for he once wrote in a letter, "I know that the angels are present at the canonical Hours, and what if ...