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Online Introduction to

The Minor Historical Works of

Venerable Bede,

Translated By J. A. Giles


One of the satisfying facts I learned from this book was that Anglo-Saxon monks thought that naps were so important that they were included in St. Benedict's Rule for monastic living.

Besides that, Venerable Bede is one of the very earliest writers of early Britain whose works have survived. He was a top-seller all across Europe, in his days and in all the years to come. Though he is more famous for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, this book contains some of his minor writings. It includes the lives of the founders of his Monastery, of St. Paul's at Jarrow, and its "brother" Monastery of St. Peter's at Weremouth. He writes of the men of the generation preceding his own, and talked to people who knew the elders of whom he writes to get the details. It is interesting reading and his admiration for these men is sincere. Their contribution to the development of the arts and sciences in England cannot be under-rated.

There is also a tour guide to the Holy Land at that period, courtesy of a monk who had gone there and got stranded in England on his way home.

Bede also took one of his roles as a priest very seriously: the task of educating all about him, once he felt competent to do so after years of study. He was widely read and created new works, but he also epitomized others for the education of his brothers, both in his in his monastery and those farther away. He also shared his wisdom with a king, or two, too.

Saint Bede did not just teach them material related to Christianity, he wrote on a variety of topics. He did a good job of it, as you can see by his Chronology of the Six Ages of the World, where he summarizes all the major historical events since the Creation of the World, (about seventy pages in print). This is a much simpler world history than usual, past or present. There are none of the theological wranglings and esoteric canonical quibbles that other histories were full of then. It is a handy reference even now. There are errors in it, which is not surprising, especially when talking about Byzantine history. But please, can you keep your Constans, Constantines and Constantinii, Maximins, Maximians and Maximinii, Theodores, Theodorets and Theodosii straight either?

There are also three saints' lives, two of his letters, and a brief synopsis of the Seven Wonders of the World, the ones considered as such in the eighth century.

In the first Appendix, there is a much later description of the journey of a corpse. The medieval faith in the importance of the skeletons of its Saints is incredible. St. Cuthbert, whose Life Bede wrote, had more adventures as a holy relic than he did when alive. Four hundred years or so after his death, his "incorruptible body" was carted all over Northern England, avoiding marauding Danes, Scotsmen and Normans. An anonymous writer details this adventure, translated by Joseph Stevenson. It was included, I imagine, not only to supplement the Life of Saint Cuthbert, written by Bede, but also to describe the history of England four hundred years later. Obligatory Miracles aside, it, too, is good reading.

A priceless picture of monastic life and holy hermits, as well as the life of those small villages that made up England, emerges from all this.

James Bohn, the Publisher, and a pretty famous 19th century one at that, added the notes and preface. He also made the index, which does not prevent it from having several typos. As a person who typed that index, I don't blame him much. Indexes are boring to make, boring to type, and boring to proofread. There are a lot of chances for errors to wend their way thither. I have fixed several, but probably added a few of my own. Feel free to tell me about them, and I will fix them tout de suite.

There were other typos in the text, not that many and they have been corrected, with the original mistakes visible in the source code. One example: "visiters" was used a couple of times, but so was "visitors." Since the modern spelling was used then, I have made "visitors" the spelling throughout. Otherwise, you will think I made the mistake!

Once you read these selections, imagine yourself living in that time, surrounded by the usual reading material: all those commentaries of Church Fathers, arguing about the date of Easter and the interpretations of words and sentences for endless pages, along with the standard cookie-cutter stories about martyrs. You, like everybody else who managed to get hold of a copy of Saint Bede's work, will be grateful to him for his work.

The book I have was owned by Mary Flynn once, according to her signature on the title page.

Begin with Bohn's Preface, which is a short summary of the contents. He makes a good job of the synopsis (he ought to, being a publisher!).

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