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Alcuin was one of the most remarkable Anglo-Saxons of the eighth century. He was born of noble and wealthy parents, at York, about the year 735, and was from his infancy dedicated to the church. York was at this period the great seat of learning among the Anglo-Saxons, and in the school of the celebrated Archbishop Egbert, Alcuin made such progress that he was subsequently appointed to the mastership, and became hardly less celebrated than his predecessor; and was on more than one occasion sent on important ecclesiastical missions to Rome, which made him early acquainted with the continent.
It was on the second of these visits, in the year 781, that he met Charlemagne, who was then meditating on great intellectual reforms in his kingdom, and who soon formed the Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastic a warm attachment. In 782, at Charlemagne’s earnest desire, having obtained the consent of his spiritual and temporal superiors, Alcuin left England to settle in France. He was received in the Frankish court as Charlemagne’s friend and counselor, as the companion of his private hours, and the instructor of his children; and the revenues of the two monasteries of Ferrieres and St Lupus, at Troyes, were assigned to him for his income.
About the year 790, he obtained the Emperor’s reluctant consent to visit his native land, only on the condition that he should return to France without delay. He had become an almost necessary minister of the great monarch, for he was a chief adviser in the plans of national instruction which had so great an influence on the civilization of Europe during the Middle Ages. He came in the character of ambassador from Charlemagne to King Offa, the great monarch of the Mercians, and remained until 792, when he left his native country for the last time, accompanied by several Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastics.
When he was probably rather more than sixty years of age, Alcuin again formed the design of returning to his native country; but his departure was prevented by the news of great troubles and revolutions in the kingdom of Northumbria, and he gave up all intention of quitting France. He died at Tours, in the abbey of St Martin, of which he was abbot, on the 19th of May 804.
Alcuin left many works, which were highly esteemed in the Middle Ages, and most of them have been printed. The most interesting to modern readers are his epistles, which furnish us with many details of his life and thoughts and throw no little light on the history and condition of his time.
Chambers, Robert (1864). Book of Days.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
363 – During the night and early morning, earthquakes accompanied by ball lightning disrupt an attempt to rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem that was to begin the next day. These forces destroy much of the material gathered for the work. The rebuilding had the backing of the pagan emperor Julian as one of his lines of opposition to Christianity; and the event will be recounted in numerous contemporary and near-contemporary sources—Pagan, Jewish, and Christian.
1296 – Ex-pope Celestine V died while in confinement. Following Celestine’s resignation, his successor Pope Boniface VIII kept him incarcerated in the castle of Fumone near Anagni to prevent schemers from using him to undermine the papacy.
1382 – An earthquake shakes London at about 2 pm as a synod, led by Archbishop William Courtenay, meets to condemn John Wycliffe for his efforts to reform the church. This meeting has ever since been known in English history as the Earthquake Synod.
1662 – The Cavalier Parliament passes “An Act for the Uniformity of Public Prayers and Administration of Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies; and for establishing the Form of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, in the Church of England.” The act requires the reordination of many pastors, gives unconditional consent to the Book of Common Prayer, advocates the taking of the oath of canonical obedience, and renounces the Solemn League and Covenant. Great persecution will follow and about two thousand Puritan ministers will be ejected from their positions.