Aldhelm (Ealdhelm) was born about the year 639.
He is said to have been the son of Kenten, of the royal
house of Wessex. He received his education from the Irish
after whom Malmesbury is named. Aldhelm was one of the
disciples of Abbot Adrian of Canterbury. His studies
included Roman law, astronomy, mathematics, and difficulties
of the calendar. He learned Greek and Hebrew. Ill health
compelled him to leave Canterbury, and the Saint returned to
Malmesbury Abbey, where he was a monk under Maeldubha for 14
years. When Maeldubha reposed, Aldhelm was appointed in 675
to be first abbot of Malmesbury.
Aldhelm introduced the Benedictine rule, and secured the
right of the election of the abbot to the monks. The
community increased, and Aldhelm was able to found two other
monasteries: Frome, Somerset and Bradford on Avon,
Wiltshire. The little church of St Laurence at Bradford on
Avon (photo below) dates back to
his time, and is probably his. At Malmesbury he built a new
church and obtained grants of land for the monastery.
His fame as a scholar spread to other countries. Artwil, the
son of an Irish king, submitted his writings for Aldhelm's
approval, and Cellanus, an Irish monk from Peronne in
Gaul, was one of his correspondents. Aldhelm was the first
Anglo-Saxon, so far as we know, to write in Latin verse, and
his letter to Acircius (Aldfrith or Eadfrith, king of
Northumbria) is a treatise on Latin prosody for the use of
his countrymen. In this work he included his most famous
productions, 101 riddles in Latin hexameters. Each of them
is a complete picture, and one of them runs to 83 lines.
His fame as a scholar reached Italy, and at the request of
Pope Sergius I, abbot Aldhelm paid a visit to Rome. He was
deputed by a synod of the church in Wessex to remonstrate
with the Britons of Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall) on the
Easter controversy. British Christians followed a unique
system of calculation for the date of Easter and also bore a
distinctive tonsure; these customs are generally associated
with the practice known as Celtic Christianity. Aldhelm
wrote a long and rather acrimonious letter to king Geraint
of Dumnonia (Geruntius) achieving ultimate agreement with
the Patriarchate (Rome).
In 705, or perhaps earlier, Hedda, bishop of Winchester,
reposed, and the diocese was divided into two parts.
Sherborne was the new see, of which Aldhelm reluctantly
became the first bishop in 705. He wished to resign the
abbey of Malmesbury which he had governed for 30 years, but
he yielded to the remonstrances of the monks and continued
directing it until his death. Though he was now an old man,
St. Aldhelm was very active as a Bishop. He built a
cathedral church at Sherborne, described by William of
Malmesbury. St. Aldhelm was known for singing hymns and
passages from the gospels, interspersed with entertaining
tales, in public places so that he might draw attention from
the crowds and then preach to them. For this, he is known as
the Apostle of Wessex.
St. Aldhelm fell asleep in the Lord in the church of
Doulting on 25 May 709. His holy and venerable body was
taken to Malmesbury, and crosses were set up by his friend,
St. Egwin, Bishop of Worcester, at the various
stopping-places. The Saint was buried in the church of St.
Michael at Malmesbury Abbey (photo below).
His biographers relate miracles worked during his lifetime
and at his shrine. He was revered as a saint after his
death, and his feast on May 25 is found in the Sarum
Holy Father Aldhelm, pray to God for us!