In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Venerable Bede

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Collections of Essays
  • Bede and the Library at Wearmouth-Jarrow
  • Lost Works and Works Attributed to Bede
  • Bede’s Literary Style
  • Bede’s Reputation

Medieval Studies The Venerable Bede
Rosalind C. Love
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0005


Of all the writers from the Anglo-Saxon period, Bede must rate as the best known and perhaps the most prolific. Given into the monastery of Wearmouth at the age of seven, he was later moved to Jarrow, where he benefited from the uniquely well-stocked library the founding abbots of his community, Benedict Biscop and Ceolfrid, had built up. He dedicated himself to teaching and writing, and his principal focus was on expounding the scriptures, as the large number of surviving biblical commentaries from his hand bear witness, and then on providing ancillary tools for interpretation of the scriptures. His didactic concerns are also reflected in his works on orthography, meter, time reckoning, and natural history. He also made a significant contribution to the first beginnings of hagiography in England with his twinned Lives of St. Cuthbert, his reworkings of earlier lives of two Continental saints (Felix and Anastasius), and his remarkable historical martyrology, which laid the groundwork for all later martyrologies. Although it would not necessarily have been the way Bede himself would wish to be remembered, later generations, including the present one, connect him most particularly with his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, composed in imitation of the earlier Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius to record the establishment and spread of Christianity in England and at least in part to bring the core values that ensured the Church’s sure foundation to the attention of his contemporaries. As inheritor of the rich diet of Christian and classical learning he found in the library at Wearmouth-Jarrow, Bede, in seeking to make that learning accessible in his own day, stands at a kind of boundary between the world of late Antiquity and the church fathers, on the one hand, and the medieval world, on the other. His acute mind and his diligence ensured him a place among the fathers and a lasting reputation.

General Overviews

There is something here for most requirements, whether it is for a straightforward biographical account, as in Campbell 2004 (or Ward 1990, a book-length study, but in fact only just over 140 pages), or a complete list of works, now best taken from Lapidge 2005, or the still important list of manuscripts of those works in Laistner and King 1943. Brown 1987 and Brown 2009 offer a survey that integrates some discussion, even if brief at times, of virtually everything Bede wrote. Hunter Blair 1970 is focused more strongly on context.

  • Brown, George Hardin. Bede the Venerable. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

    A well-structured short survey of Bede and his writings, with a fairly full bibliography.

  • Brown, George Hardin. A Companion to Bede. Anglo-Saxon Studies 12. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2009.

    An up-to-date guide to Bede and his writings, which are discussed under general headings and then individually. Some portions substantially repeat Brown 1987.

  • Campbell, James. “Bede.” In The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 4. Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, 758–765. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    A good, simple account of Bede and his career, with sections on the various branches of scholarship to which his works belong, on his intellectual milieu, and on his legacy and reputation.

  • Hunter Blair, Peter. The World of Bede. London: Secker and Warburg, 1970.

    An accessible but learned study of Bede and his context through his writings, organized thematically and detailing Bede’s view of Britain, the conversion, his monastic setting, and his learning and teaching. The 1990 reissue (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press) corrects earlier misprints and updates the bibliography.

  • Laistner, Max L. W., and H. H. King. A Hand-List of Bede Manuscripts. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1943.

    Still an important point of reference for surviving manuscripts of Bede’s works. A revised version is being prepared by George H. Brown and Joshua Westgard.

  • Lapidge, Michael. “Beda Venerabilis.” In Compendium auctorum Latinorum Medii Aevi (CALMA), Vol. 2.2. Edited by Michael Lapidge and Gian Carlo Garfagnini, 173–179. Florence: SISMEL, Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2005.

    A record of general treatments of Bede and encyclopedia entries, followed by a complete list of his works, each furnished with details about editions and secondary scholarship. Also includes attributed works.

  • Lapidge, Michael. “Beda Venerabilis.” In La trasmissione dei testi latini del medioevo, Vol. 3. Edited by Paolo Chiesa and Lucio Castaldi, 45–137. Florence: Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2008.

    Medieval Latin texts and their transmission. A detailed study of the manuscript transmission of all of Bede’s writings, with the exception of his exegetical writings.

  • Ward, Benedicta. The Venerable Bede. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1990.

    Intended for a general readership.

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