In the summer of 1991 the members of the North American Congregation of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist made a pilgrimage to Great Britain to mark the 125th anniversary of the founding of our Society. We began the pilgrimage in Oxford, where the Society was founded in 1866, and proceeded to Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland with a long monastic history. The boundary in Iona between heaven and earth is considered very thin. We spent a week on Iona in retreat. From there we returned to Oxford for a final week of conversations and services.
Our journey from Iona back to Oxford included a visit to the Cathedral at Durham, where we were shown the grave of the 8th Century English Monk, the Venerable Bede. I had been interested in him since my early teens. We were taken to a room in the west end of the Cathedral that looked something like an attic room. There we saw the graves of Cuthbert and Bede, and prayed there.
Bede the Venerable is honored as the first Historian of the Church in Great Britain, having written The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, giving the history of Christianity in England from 597 to 731 A.D. He also wrote about the lives of some of the saints of his period.
Born in northeastern England in about 670, he was taken by his parents to the monastery at Wearmouth at the age of 7 to be given an education. He later moved to the monastery at Jarrow, near Durham. There he spent the rest of his life. He became an exemplary monk and a devoted scholar.
At the time of his death on the Eve of Ascension Day, 735, he had been working on a vernacular translation of the Gospel according to St. John. According to a monk who witnessed his death his last words were Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
It is a natural tendency to think that his greatest gift to the Church was his Historical writing. But when we consider the impact of his life and the example given by his devotion, I would say his greatest gift was his perseverance.
Venerable Bede whom we commemorate today!
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