Infobox Saint
name=Saint Ceolfrid
venerated_in=Roman Catholic Church

death_place=monastery of Langres in Burgundy

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Saint Ceolfrid or Ceolfrith (Pronounced "Chol-frid")(c.642 to 716) was an Anglo-Saxon abbot and saint. Is best known as the warden of Bede from the age of seven until his death in 716. He was the Abbot of the churches of St. Paul and St.Peter, located in the twin Monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow in Northumbria, and a major contributor to the project Codex Amiatinus. He died in Burgundy while en route to deliver a copy of the codex to the Pope Gregory I in Rome.

Early Life

Not much is known about the earlier period of Ceolfrid's life. What we do know is that his desire to join the monastic community was likely due to his own brother Cynefrid's devotion to the traditions of Christian Monasticism. Historians date Ceolfrid's induction into Monastic tradition around the date of Cynefrid's death in 660 CE. Ceolfrid is known to have a strong family connection to Monastic tradition, as not only was his brother heavily involved in Christian Monasticism, but his cousin, Tunbert, was the first Abbot of the Monastery of Hexham. His first four years in Cloister took place at a Monastery called Gilling, which was also attended by Cynefrid, prior to his departure to Ireland. Ceolfrid is described as being "behaved of the greater devotion, giving his mind continually to reading, to labour, and monastic discipline" [D.S Boutflower, 56] After these four years, Ceolfrid left Gilling as he "sought a monastery of a stricter character [Boutflower,10] ". He soo took in with a band of men, led by Wilfrid (Later canonized as St.Wilfrid). These Monks are identified by Boutflower as being the Benedictines of Ripon at a monastery under the same name. During his time with the Benedictines of Ripon, he came to refine his own understanding of proper monastic principles. At the age of twenty seven, Ceolfrid was ordained as a Bishop and began to "aquiaint himself to the utmost with the practices of Monastic life", which started him on the road to Kent.

Very little is revealed about the period between the end of his days at Ripon, and his appointment under Benedict Biscop, except that he spent some time in the institutions of the Abbot Botolph, whom he describes as being filled with "the grace of spirit [Boutflower, 57] , and while having been revered as an inspiration for the way of divine living, Botolph also served to inspire a greater sense of humility within Ceolfrid. Other than this, we have nothing more of Ceolfrid until his interactions with Benedict Biscop in 674.

Relationship with Benedict Biscop

In 674, Benedict Biscop had recieved a land grant from King Ecgfrith for the explicit purpose of erecting a monastery. During the construction of his first monastery at Wearmouth Biscop began to seek the administrative body of his crowning work. He appointed Abbot Eosterwini (anglicized as "Easterwine") as his primary Abbot and Coadjutor. the Monastery took eight years to build. This institute had left Egfrith so enamored that soon after the completion of the Wearmouth Monastery he had granted Biscop another segment of land for the construction of a second monastery, Jarrow, with its inception not intended to be separate from the initial Wearmouth institution, but instead to join the two together.

It is during the construction of the Wearmouth Monastery that Benedict Biscop sought out Ceolfrid, who would become "his most zealous assistant from the first foundation of the former monastery" [] , as well as a close friend. It appears that Biscop's invitation came at a most opportune time, for Ceolfrid had been contemplating the idea of leaving his priori post. He had grown rather disenchanted with the power stratification within the institution (No name is actually given to this place where Ceolfrid held this Priori position) and had had enough of the "jealousies and very bitter persecutions of certain men of rank" [Boutflower, 60] and had been looking to return to his own monastery (assumed to be Ripon).

Upon the completion of the Jarrow Monastery, Ceolfrid would become the Abbot of the St. Paul's Church on the monasterial grounds. Conflicting reports state that the presence of Ceolfrid during Jarrow's construction varies. Some papers state that Jarrow came into his hands after its completion, while another identifies Ceolfrid as being paramount to the actual construction of the Monastery as the individual who directed the construction of the Monastery itself.

The friendship between the two was fairly close, for when Benedict sailed across the English channel to Rome for the last time, he chose only Ceolfrid to join him in his journey. This trip was to be the very trip that would lead to both Abbot's immortalization in the works of Ceolfrid's ward and later contemporary, The Venerable Bede. Ceolfrid also used the trip as an opportunity to explore his role in Biscop's institution, feeling that Rome would be an opportune place to learn his position's responsibilities. Twelve years later, upon the death of the Abbot Eosterwini, Ceolfrid was appointed as the Sole Abbot for both Monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, an honour never heard of before. In 690, Benedict Biscop drew his last breath after being bedridden for a lengthy period of time, and became the leading head of both monasteries," [whose] libraries of both monasteries, which Abbot Benedicthad so actively begun, under his zealous care became doubled in extant" [Ruby Davis, "Bede's early Readings"]

Relationship with The Venerable Bede

If there was one thing that most medieval historians know about Ceolfrid, its his relationship with Bede. Bede came into Ceolfrid's care at the young age of seven, and became the pupil of the Abbot as well as friend. Every English historian who knows of Bede usually conjures the image of a master and a young pupil standing amongst a tragic acumulation of plague - ridden bodies. In his early years at the twin Monasteries of Wearmouth - Jarrow (686 CE), the Plague had struck Northumbria, and ravaged most of the countryside, including the twin Monasteries. Ceolfrid and Bede appeared to remain untouched by the epidemic, and took the duties of caring for the infected and dying monks of the monasteries with unyielding fervor. They further worked together in maintaining the regular sermons when fear had gripped the population. When the plague finally passed over, Master and Pupil began to rebuild the monastic foundations and succeeded effectively. Bede remained in Jarrow for the majority of his life, never straying more than seventy miles from the monastery at any time in his life. He was a loyal pupil until Ceolfrid's death, and he himself died in Jarrow in 731 CE.

The Codex Amiatinus Project

The Codex Amiatinus was the first translation of the Bible into a Vulgate text. What strikes most people when they see this magnificent work is not the volume or the messages within. It is the writing itself. The Codex Amiatinus is described as a brilliant display of the beauty that is Early British, Pre - Carolingian Calligraphy. As a Vulgate Bible, it became so much more as it dictated the rules not just of Christendom to the masses, but expressed exercises of Monastic interest. For the Codex Amiatinus, Ceolfrid devoted a great deal of his time in the Twin Monasteries in composing this work. The composition of the Vulgate was part of the project to expand Wearmouth and Jarrow's extensive library, and ordered three copies of this Bible manuscript to be composed, one of which would be dedicated to the Pope Gregory I, while the other two copies were meant to stay in the respective Churches of Wearmouth and Jarrow. The current debate regarding The Codex Amiatinus is borne from Ceolfrid's death. there are no official records that state that the text made it to Rome. It is said that instead, it made its way into Florence, where it was presented to the Monastery at Monte Amiata by the Lombard Abbot Peter, and it is believed that he changed the dedicatory note inscribed within the leaves to suit the donation to the Monte Amiata Monastery. This occurs in the Ninth Century (exact year is not known). The Document remained at Monte Amiata until 1786, when it is relocated to the Laurentian Library in Florence. There is some dispute over what consisted of this Vulgate Codex. Over the past few hundred years, additional leaves that appear to be related to this text have been located all over Britain, as some were disguised as book wrappings and other literary - based disguises. These new discoveries have led scholars to question the total length of the Codex, as there are still fragments missing from this text today.

Final Days

Ceolfrid apparently knew that he was coming to the end of his life, and so he resigned his post and was succeeded by Hwaetberht. He then set sail for Rome with the intent of delivering a copy of the Vulgate Codex to the presiding Pope, Gregory I. He made it as far as Langres, which is where he passed on. As previously stated, the Codex is never believed to have made it to Rome, but instead was redirected to Monte Amiata, and currently resides, in partial fragments, in the Florentine Library of Laurentian.


References and further reading

* Davis, Ruby, "Bede's Early Readings", as appearing in "Speculum" Vol.8, No.2, 1933. PP.179-195.
* Anon., "Life of Ceolfrid, Abbot of Wearmouth and Jarrow." As translated by D.S Boutflower. London: Sunderland Hills & Company, 1912. Pgs 10,56,57.
* Bede, "Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow" As appearing in "The Medieval Sourcebook" [] ]
* Marsden, Richard, "The Text of Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England" Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Book 15 of "Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England"
* Bell, H.I, "Leaves of an Early Bible Manuscript". As appearing in "The British Museum quarterly", Vol.12, No.2 Apr. 1938, Pp. 39-40
* Laistner, M.L.W, "Bede as a Classical and Patristic Scholar" As appearing in "Transactions of the Royal Historical Society", Fourth series, Vol. 33, (1933), Pp.69-94
* Lowe, E.A "The Uncial Gospel Leaves attached to the Utrecht Psalter" As appearing in "The Art Bulletin", Vol.34, No.3 (Sept 1952)
* McGurk, Patrick "An Anglo-Saxon Bible fragment of the Late 8TH Century" As appearing in "Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes", Vol. 25, No. 1/2 (Jan. - Jun., 1962), pp. 18-34

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