Aldhelm, St.

views updated


Abbot, bishop, first notable Anglo-Saxon writer; b. c. 640; d. Doulting (Somerset), May 25, 709. Kinsman of ine, King of Wessex, he was educated by Maildubh, Irish founder of Malmesbury, and in Kent by the African Abbot hadrian, companion of St. theodore of canterbury. As abbot of Malmesbury (from c. 675) he rebuilt the church and monastery and made foundations at Frome and Bradford-on-Avon. When the Wessex Diocese was divided in 705, he ruled the western half (roughly Wiltshire, Dorset, and Somerset) while remaining abbot of Malmesbury. He built churches in his cathedral town of Sherborne and on his Dorset estates at Corfe and Wareham, near which a headland still bears his name. He was buried at Malmesbury, whose principal saint he remained for the Middle Ages, in spite of the short suspension of his cult by lanfranc.

His principal works include: De virginitate, a study of saints of the Bible and the early Church in both prose and verse; De metris et enigmatibus ac pedum regulis, a treatise on grammar; Letters, including one to the Britons on the date of Easter and one to the clerics of St. Wilfrid on loyalty in persecution; and Carmina ecclesiastica, a collection of religious poems. All of these were widely read in England and on the Continent until the eleventh century. Their turgid Latin influenced St. boniface and charter writers. King alfred highly praised his Anglo-Saxon poems, sung to harp accompaniment to attract hearers to church, but these have not survived. Highly esteemed by St. bede, Aldhelm's learning and piety inspired many followers, including William of Malmesbury.

Feast: May 23; May 28 (Dioceses of Clifton and Plymouth, and Southwark).

Bibliography: Aldhelmi opera, ed. r. ehwald, Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Auctores Antiquissimi 15. Aldhelm, the poetic works, tr. m. lapidge and j. l. rosier (Cambridge 1985). Aldhelm, the prose works, tr. m. lapidge and m. herren (Cambridge 1979). bede, Historia ecclesiastica, ed. c. plummer (Oxford 1896, reprint 1956) 5:18. william of malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, ed. n. e. hamilton, Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores 52 (1870) 330443. g. f. browne, St. Aldhelm (London 1903). a. s. cook, Sources of the Biography of Aldhelm (Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 28; New Haven 1927). e. s. duckett, Anglo-Saxon Saints and Scholars (New York 1947, reprinted Hamden, Conn. 1967). a. orchard, The Poetic Art of Aldhelm (Cambridge, England 1994). n. p. stork, Through a Gloss Darkly: Aldhelm's Riddles in the British Library MS Royal 12.C.xxiii (Toronto, Canada 1990). m. gretsch, The intellectual foundations of the English Benedictine reform (Cambridge 1999).

[h. farmer]